Art Campbell

Art started The Groton Line late in 2009 as a synthesis of two careers in newspaper journalism and technical communications -- writing about networks, computers, and software. He's lived in Groton 20+ years, so he qualifies as "one of the new guys."

Dec 182014
 

Groton Deputy Fire Chief Clarence Jefferson and firefighters Stephen Tervo and Ben Miele should not have been dismissed from their positions this June and should be reinstated, according to the recommendation of the hearing officer who conducted the October 28 “Strong Chief Law” hearing into the termination of the three call firefighters.

Hearing officer and attorney John Clifford wrote in his “Recommendation to the Appointing Authority:”

Even if all of the hearsay evidence were admitted into the record, over the objection of counsel for the employees, I do not find that the record supports the removal or termination of these employees. There are conflicting versions of the events in question, and the evidence does not show that one version is substantially more likely or credible than the other. It is my recommendation that Clarence Jefferson, Stephen Tervo, and Benjamin Miele not be terminated as a result of these charges, and that they be reinstated to active duty.

The report from Clifford was released in a joint news release by the Board of Selectmen and Fire Chief Steele McCurdy this morning. The 39-page news release is prefaced with a note saying the town is evaluating its options and warning that no one connected with the hearing or the lawsuit filed by the three firefighters and a fourth who resigned before the terminations, James Horan, would discuss the matter because of pending litigation by the four firefighters.

The bulk of the news release is a transcript of the hearing testimony, 121 pages of proceedings logged by a court reporter, scanned into the press release at reduced size. The testimony, much it given by Town Manager Mark Haddad, gives insight into the investigation of a harassment complaint filed by firefighter/EMT Cathy Lincoln against fire department officers. Haddad said that inconsistencies in that investigation, by a professional investigator, needed to be clarified and that the Board of Selectmen directed him to conduct his own investigation with the help of then Fire Chief Joe Bosselait and Human Resources Director Melissa Doig. The results of that investigation led to the dismissal of the three firefighters when Bosselait elected not to reappoint them to their positions in June, 2014.



Read or download the Board of Selectmen’s news release here.


Clifford’s report was apparently delivered to either Town Manager Mark Haddad or the Board of Selectmen, or both, on Friday, December 5. Although Clifford was taking the role of the fire chief by conducing a termination hearing under the state’s Strong Chief Law, McCurdy did not receive a copy of the report until the following Monday, December 8, and that was delivered as a result of an email directive from Haddad to send him a copy, not directly from Clifford.

The email directive was the only response from the town to a Public Information Request filed by The Groton Line on December 7 seeking details of the town’s contract with, and hiring of, Clifford. The lack of a response to the PIR with written documents or emails is unusual for an important town purchase or contract. Unless the response to the PIR is incomplete, that would mean that the contract would need to have been for a sum less than $10,000, because an amount over that requires Board of Selectmen approval and BoS chair Josh Degen confirmed that it did not come before the board. McCurdy said that he was involved with the decision to hire a hearing officer, but was not involved with contract negotiations with Clifford. With the BoS not involved in negotiation, Clifford’s contract would have to have been negotiated verbally by Haddad and possibly town counsel and counsel for the town’s insurance company without any written communications between any of the players.

The town’s press release, issued this morning, states that the town did not receive the report until December 15.



View or download the town’s response to The Groton Line’s PIR.


Text of The Groton Line's Public Information Request


We are requesting all emails, letters, memos, contracts, status reports, and other documents created or received by Fire Chief Steele McCurdy; Town Manager Mark Haddad; or the Board of Selectmen; or any individual member of the Board of Selectmen related in any way to planning and execution of the hearing conducted October 28 by John Clifford, acting for Chief McCurdy, related to the non-reappointment of Clarence Jefferson, Ben Miele, and Stephen Tervo.

Note that this request is not for material generated in the hearing. It is for documents related to the hiring of Clifford, including his contract and fees, and the status of his report on the hearing, originally to be filed 21 days after the October 28 hearing.

This includes but is not limited to, communications with town counsel, the MMA, members of the Board of Selectmen, the Groton Fire Chief and other Fire Department officers, employee unions, and the public.

The news release also states that the firefighters although the hearing officer said they should not have been dismissed, they may not be back on the job soon:

While we disagree that the evidence presented during the hearing did not meet the Town’s burden, and while we view the report to be inconclusive, we believe it is best to move forward in the interests of the Town and accept the hearing officer’s report. The Fire Chief and the Board of Selectmen are currently evaluating their options with respect to the status of these members of the Department and the ongoing litigation.

Rob Bowen, attorney for the firefighters, issued their response in a news release at noon on Thursday.

He wrote:

… Despite numerous requests, the plaintiffs were not provided with a copy of the report before its public release. Furthermore, the release of personnel information such as this, in this fashion, may be in further violation of state laws protecting the privacy of government employees.

They are pleased that the report finds that the Town failed to prove its claims, and recommends their reinstatement. The plaintiffs have maintain throughout that they have done nothing wrong and have been unfairly victimized. They are disturbed, however, but the Town’s Press Release, which pays mere lip service to the recommendation of the neutral hearing officer that they hired, and continues to accuse the plaintiffs of wrongdoing.

We anxiously await their deliberations as to how they plan to implement the recommendations, but given the animosity continued to be expressed in their news release, we are not optimistic. The plaintiffs will carefully consider all options, but it is difficult to see how they could be expected to return when confronted with the obvious atmosphere of continued hostility and mistrust. In light of the town’s tepid response to the report, they have little choice at the moment but to continue with their lawsuit.

On the town side, Degen and McCurdy declined any comment and Haddad’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment on how much Clifford’s services cost.


Dec 122014
 

The Board of Selectmen moved like a well-trained basketball team rolling down the court to defeat a pending “Gag Rule” or “Abide By Votes” policy at its December 8 meeting. The proposed policy held that individual selectmen should not try to affect public policy on an issue further once the board voted on a course of action. After 40 minutes of debate and audience comments that generally panned the proposal as written, board members voting unanimously to table the controversial policy.

But the team captain, Chair Josh Degen, went back to the playbook and kept the issue alive to be debated again, telling Town Manager Mark Haddad to put discussion of the selectmen’s Policies and Procedures manual on a January meeting agenda.

“Some of what we’re trying to convey here might be strengthened within that policy and that might be a solution to the situation, as opposed to a stand-alone policy by itself,” Degen said. “We might be able to beef up what was done in June, 2012, so I think we should take another look at that. Would you put that on the agenda, Mark? For some point in January and then we can see what we can do with that.”

At the heart of the matter is the issue of how important it is to the Board of Selectmen to function as a group, and how important is it for individual selectmen to be able to represent constituents who disagree with board decisions. The key question was whether “team players” should keep trying to make or change a town policy once the team has voted on something.

The example that was mentioned several times was Selectman Jack Petropoulos’s effort to support a 2011 Town Meeting Vote on the town Personnel Board. The BoS declined to appoint members to the board until Petropoulos collected more than 200 voter signatures and forced the issue at the 2013 Spring Town Meeting. The Board of Selectmen appointed three members to the Personnel Board in June, 2013. But the other board members were unhappy with Petropoulos — then newly elected — and now still serving his first term — and sought a way to prevent a reoccurrence. The proposed policy, that selectmen should not seek to “circumvent” a vote of the board, was the result.

Petropoulos told the other selectmen he was uncomfortable with the policy because he felt it would limit all their abilities to represent constituents.

Selectmen were unable to answer a question as to what actions, exactly, would be an attempt to circumvent a vote of the Board of Selectmen. Based on what was said in the meeting and in interviews after the meeting, apparently organizing a citizen’s petition would be over the line, but writing letters to the editors of publications would be permitted.

Selectman Peter Cunningham emphasized that even if a selectman violated the policy, there wouldn’t be a penalty. “People are trying to work together as a team, as a board. I don’t think there’s anyway we can impose consequences on people that decide to be a lone wolf, if you will, and go off and do their own thing. But we are trying to engender a sense, through policy, of people and boards trying to work together,” he said.

All of the selectmen but Petropoulos were board members when the Procedures and Practices document was last revised in June of 2012. In the section that which talks about board policy and standards of conduct, Cunningham said, it is important that members ” … realize that we are collective, members of the a team.”

The Procedures and Practices document is not available on the town website, but Cunningham said today, December 12, that he would make sure it was posted in a public area of the website next week.

Democracy is Messy

Barry Pease was one of the members of the public who addressed the Board of Selectmen on December 8, speaking against the proposed “Abide by Votes” policy then under consideration. This is the statement he read to selectmen. — Ed.
“Democracy is Messy.”

I remember hearing this as a member of the Town Meeting Review Committee during our public meetings. It struck me as wonderfully appropriate and accurate for our town. Thomas Jefferson said this a bit differently, but the message still rings true: “The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.”

I thank the Chair for allowing me to express concern against this proposed policy, as I would speak out against any policy that restricts the ability of a citizen to be part of our democracy.

Now, I like waves. Nothing forges better ideas, better results than a collaborative process which fosters dissent, which encourages the assembled to speak up and against the considerations of the majority. Waves make us stronger.

So, when I read the stated purpose of the policy in question, I find it difficult to know why this is even necessary. Has anyone here asked that question? Why do we need to consider such a thing in our town?

We already have the Open Meeting Law which restricts debate outside of posted parameters. Board Members always have the ability to request discussion from the Chair. The Chair has the ability to allow or deny discussion on any topic. So, again, I ask, why are you thinking about adopting such a strange policy?

Perhaps the board seeks false validation by not ever knowing that the majority have failed to reach the best decision. Perhaps the board seeks to create fear, and thereby to limit criticism, as if our citizens had elected the weak-willed, as if our Selectmen are not capable of humanity’s best attribute — recognizing and learning from mistakes.

Thus, it baffles me that I can find no rational argument for this proposed policy. Instead, we are forced to understand the ‘why not’. I have three reasons why not:

  1. This policy seems to encourage an atmosphere of groupthink. In an atmosphere where people do not go against the decisions, do not fight for what was right, wrong decisions are never questioned. You need dissent to prevent this, and the best dissent often comes after a decision has been made.
  2. This policy seems to stifle dissent. It seems to prevent an elected member from representing other citizens with expertise and guidance. It seems to act like a perversion of our democracy. It seems to treat our selectmen like children, and not valued and respected adults. It seems to stop the Board of Selectmen from recognizing when it’s made an error in judgment.
    I refute the idea that logic and reason have no place within the Board of Selectmen.
    I refute the idea that the members here are less than human.
  3. This policy seems to be unenforceable. Massachusetts General Laws, Title 7, Chapter 39, Section 10 clearly states “The selectmen shall insert in the warrant for the annual meeting all subjects the insertion of which shall be requested of them in writing by ten or more registered voters of the town.” A Member of the Board is, usually, a registered voter. Would you flaunt our State laws and tell them that they may not be one of the ten signatories to a warrant article, simply because that warrant article disagrees with a majority decision?
    I refute the idea that the members here are less than citizens of Groton.

So, we have no reasons in the positive, and three cautions against. Again, I ask, why consider this policy?

Thus, I urge the Board of Selectmen to eliminate this flawed policy from consideration, and instead let a policy of reasonableness be your guide.


Dec 122014
 

ArtWalk On The Common

Stroll Through Five Groton Galleries At ArtWalk On The Common

The first ArtWalk On The Common takes place Saturday, December 13, when five Groton Center art galleries open their doors to the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The NOA Gallery, 113 Main Street is hosting an artist’s reception for Linda Puitti from 5-7 p.m., to conclude the ArtWalk and extend the art-filled day by a couple hours.

“It is a collaborative event between the five galleries,” NOA Gallery owner Joni Parker-Roach explained. “We want to create a group of art galleries around the common. We eventually want to spiral out to include other galleries and businesses in town. Starting small and growing! We want to support each other and coordinate events so that there is more of a draw to this area as an arts destination.”

The galleries taking part in the ArtWalk On The Common are:
NOA Gallery of Fine Art, 113 Main Street
Cape Light
Paintings in oil by Linda Puiatti
Opening Reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

Lawrence Academy Conant Gallery
Richardson-Mees Performing Arts Center
Boundaries Abandoned
Mixed media works by Carol Gove

Lawrence Academy Williams Gallery
Gray Building
Student Art Exhibition

Groton Public Library
Owen Smith Shuman Art Gallery
99 Main Street
Old Catalog Cards, New Meaning
Mixed Media works by Joel Moskowitz

First Parish Church of Groton
1 Powder House Road
Student Art Exhibition


Dec 112014
 

The report from the “Strong Chief” employee termination hearing of three call firefighters who lost their jobs this spring landed on the desk of Fire Chief’ Steele McCurdy and other town officials Monday. Town Manager Mark Haddad ordered the distribution to McCurdy to take place on Monday, according to an email Haddad sent on December 5 and obtained by The Groton Line today in response to a Public Information Request for documents related to the hearing.

The hearing, conducted by attorney John Clifford on October 28, followed the rehiring and immediate placement on administrative leave of Deputy Fire Chief Clarence Jefferson and firefighters Ben Mele and Stephen Tervo, who lost their jobs when they were not automatically reappointed to their positions in June.

Clifford told participants in the hearing that he would rule in 21 days, which would have been November 19th. He followed up then with a notice then that his report would be delayed a week. The report was finally acknowledged as being received by town officials this week.

Jefferson; Mele; Tervo; and James Horan, a call firefighter who resigned this spring, filed suit in state court after they were terminated. They alleged that town officials violated the state Strong Chief Law, state and Federal civil rights laws, wrongfully terminated them from their positions, interfered with contractual relationships (related to the firefighter’s job roles), and inflicted emotional distress upon and defamed the four firefighters. The seven count lawsuit named Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad, all five members of the Board of Selectmen, former Fire Chief Joe Bosselait, Fire Captain Susan Daly, and Fire Lieutenant Tony Hawgood (Daly and Hawgood are married) as defendants. The suit has moved to federal court at the request of attorneys for the town’s insurance company, which has taken the lead role in court.

The Strong Chief termination hearing is not directly related to the law suit. However, attorney Rob Bowen, who represents the four firefighters, and other attorneys contacted by The Groton Line agreed that the sworn testimony given by Haddad and others during the hearing could be used as evidence in the lawsuit.

Steele, who was not employed by the town when the firefighters were terminated and who was not present at the hearing, appears to be responsible for acting on the report submitted by Clifford. He did say that he would be cooperating with other town officials to arrive at a decision — “There are a lot of moving parts, so there are different aspects for different people to deal with” he said, as well as the pending lawsuit to consider.

“What I need to do at this point is take a look at everything and figure out how to, and what we proceed with. There’s a lot to go over at this point. Obviously that takes time, along with the fact that I have regular duties that I have to attend to, so it’s going to take a little bit of time. When we get to that point, there certainly will be a press release and possibly attachments to that,” McCurdy said this morning. He didn’t lay out a time frame for his analysis and response.

Both because it is an internal personnel matter and because of the pending lawsuit, the firefighters, selectmen, and Bowen all declined to comment.

The Public Information Request submitted by The Groton Line on December 7 requested:

“… all emails, letters, memos, contracts, status reports, and other documents created or received by Fire Chief Steele McCurdy; Town Manager Mark Haddad; or the Board of Selectmen; or any individual member of the Board of Selectmen related in any way to planning and execution of the hearing conducted October 28 by John Clifford, acting for Chief McCurdy, related to the non-reappointment of Clarence Jefferson, Ben Miele, and Stephen Tervo.

Note that this request is not for material generated in the hearing. It is for documents related to the hiring of Clifford, including his contract and fees, and the status of his report on the hearing, originally to be filed 21 days after the October 28 hearing.

This includes but is not limited to, communications with town counsel, the MMA, members of the Board of Selectmen, the Groton Fire Chief and other Fire Department officers, employee unions, and the public.”

The single page email from Haddad ordering the release to McCurdy was the entire response of the town, through Town Clerk Michael Bouchard. No information on Clifford’s contract, fees, duties, or responsibilities was released by the town.

The Public Information Request was originally filed as a joint request with The Groton Herald a local tabloid, but Bouchard wrote in his email response to the PIR that “Mr. Harris advised that he wished to be removed from the Town’s response to same.”


Dec 112014
 

Two old apartment buildings and the old Groton Inn’s garage, built in 1913, were demolished this week, the last preparatory steps required before construction work on the new Groton Inn hospitality complex begins. Barring weather delays, construction crews will begin excavating and pouring concrete for the new buildings on the 8.5 acre site at 128 Main Street still this month.

The new $15M Groton Inn complex includes a 29 room inn modeled after the original 17th century building and several secondary buildings with suites, apartments, and function facilities.

Chris Ferris, managing partner in the development company that will build and operate the complex, is setting up shop in a construction trailer on site. Power should be hooked up on December 15, he said, and phones and Internet right after that.

Old Groton Inn Buildings Bite The Dust from The Groton Line on Vimeo.


Dec 102014
 
This entry is part 22 of 22 in the series Check It Out

See “Old Catalog Cards, New Meaning,” mixed media work by Joel Moskowitz at the Owen Smith Shuman Art Gallery at the Groton Public Library during the Groton Artwalk 2014 on Saturday, December 13 from 10 am – 5 pm. Also visit four other participating art galleries near Groton Common: NOA Gallery of Fine Art; the Conant Gallery and the Williams Gallery, both at Lawrence Academy; and at the First Parish Church of Groton.

See “Old Catalog Cards, New Meaning,” mixed media work by Joel Moskowitz at the Owen Smith Shuman Art Gallery at the Groton Public Library during the Groton Artwalk 2014 on Saturday, December 13 from 10 am – 5 pm. Also visit four other participating art galleries near Groton Common: NOA Gallery of Fine Art; the Conant Gallery and the Williams Gallery, both at Lawrence Academy; and at the First Parish Church of Groton.


The Groton Public Library will be closed Thursday, December 18 from 10 a.m. to noon for staff training. The library will close early, at 2 p.m., on Wednesday, December 24 and will remain closed all day Thursday, December 25.

Groton ArtWalk 2014, Saturday, December 13, 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. Visit five art galleries near Groton Common. At the Library’s gallery, you’ll see “Old Catalog Cards, New Meanings,” mixed media art work by Joel Moskowitz. The other participating art galleries are NOA Gallery of Fine Art; the Conant Gallery and the Williams Gallery, both at Lawrence Academy; and at the First Parish Church of Groton.

Chinese Language Group, Thursday, Dec 10, 1-2 p.m. New group! Beginners and intermediate-level speakers of Chinese and all those interested in Chinese language are encouraged to attend.

All are welcome to take part in the GPL Knitting Group which meets on Thursdays from 2-3:30 p.m. Bring your self-directed knitting project or other handicraft project. Open to all.

The Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Series* meets Fridays, 2:30-4:30 p.m. through Jan 2. Downton Abbey Fans! Join us for a formal English-style afternoon tea while watching Season 4, in anticipation of the Season 5 premiere on January 4! Please register for each tea you plan to attend.

Young Adult Programs

Magic the Gathering Club, Wed, Dec 10, 3-5 p.m. Come play Magic the Gathering in a fun, relaxed way with your friends. Prizes and refreshments provided by the GPL Endowment Fund. Grades 6 and up.
YA Anime Club, Wed, Dec 10, 7-8:30 p.m. View episodes of your favorite animé shows downloaded from Crunchyroll. Drawing supplies and refreshments are provided. Grades 6-12.
Llama Lounge for Young Adults, Thurs, Dec 11, 11:45 a.m. — 3 p.m. A Llama Lounge is a place for young adults in grades 5-8 to spend the afternoon with friends on a school half-day. Play Wii or board games, do a craft, enjoy some treats, listen to music and/or get your homework done.
Crafternoon for Grades 6-12 (Minecraft and/or Arts & Crafts), Wed, Dec 17, 3-4:30 p.m. Sibley Hall is reserved for you, and laptops are available for you and your friends to play online games like Minecraft. Or, if you prefer to do manual, rather than digital crafting, a craft table will be set up with a project for the day. So stop by after school for some fun.

Children’s Programs

Online registration begins one week before each program and preference is given to Groton residents, except for Drop-In Craft:
Creative Kids Drop-In Craft, Tuesdays, 10 a.m. — 3 p.m. Drop-in freestyle craft in the Children’s Room.
Mother Goose Story Time, Wednesdays, Dec 3 & 10 (resumes Jan 7), 10:30-11 am & 11:15-11:45 a.m. For babies & toddlers and their caregivers.
Story Time for 3, 4 & 5 Year-Olds, Thursdays, Dec 4 & 11 (resumes Jan 8), 10:30-11 am
Minecraft for Grades 2 and Up, Wed, Dec 10, 7-8 PM. Play Minecraft together on the library’s dedicated server.
LEGO® Club, Tues, Dec 16, 4-5 PM. Bring your imagination! We’ve got the LEGO® bricks! Sign up online one week ahead.
Chapter Book Read-Aloud with Jennie, Thurs, Dec 18, 4-4:30 p.m. Jennie Fitzkee reads aloud from some of the best children’s chapter books. Grades K-2.
Tales and Tunes for Tots, Fri, Dec 19, 10:30-11:15 a.m. Online registration begins one week before the program and preference is given to Groton residents.
Movie “Frozen,” Tues, Dec 30, 10:30 a.m. — 12:15 p.m. All ages.

Always free and open to all.

* Made possible by the GPL Endowment Fund.

For more information on events, the art gallery, and museum passes, visit www.gpl.org.
GPL Hours: Tues, Wed, Thurs 10-9; Fri 10-6; Sat 10-5; Sun 1-5 Sept-Apr; Closed Mon.
Telephone: Main: 978-448-1167, Reference: 978-448-8000, Children’s: 978-448-1168


Dec 092014
 

Anna Kopec

Anna Kopec

Anna Duda Kopec, 85, of West Groton, died on December 8, 2014 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton. She was born in Pepperell on April 1, 1929, daughter of the late Albert and Anna Wzorek Duda. She grew up in Pepperell and was a graduate of Pepperell High School.

Anna graduated from Burbank Hospital School of Nursing in 1951 and began her nursing career, which was to span almost 50 years, at the Groton Hospital. She then worked at Nashoba Community Hospital in Ayer where she was a nursing supervisor and later in charge of infection control.

Kopec was married in 1951 and made her home in West Groton since then. She was a member of St. James Church in West Groton and loved her career as a nurse. Her hobbies included reading, crossword puzzles, animals, bird watching and traveling. She and her husband traveled extensively throughout Europe including France (especially Normandy), Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Wales, and England.

Her survivors include her husband, Stanley Kopec, Sr., of West Groton; a son, Stanley Kopec Jr, and his wife Bobbye of Pepperell; a daughter, Nancy Kopec, of Windham, New Hampshire; and a brother, Thaddeus “Ted” Duda of Pepperell.

Visiting hours at the Badger Funeral Home, 45 School Street, Groton, are on Thursday, December 11, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, December 12 at 10:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Grace Parish worshipping at St. James Church on St. James Avenue in West Groton. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be “In memory of Anna Kopec” to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Nevins Farm, http://www.mspca.org/nevins or 400 Broadway, Methuen, MA 01844.


Dec 072014
 

The Groton Board of Selectmen’s annual performance reviews of Town Manager Mark Haddad probably violated the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law (OML) for at least four of the six years Haddad has served as the town’s first town manager.

Generally, a bad news situation for the Board of Selectmen and the town, which was found to have violated the Open Meeting Law by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office earlier this year.

The good news is that as soon as the performance review issue was formally raised last Thursday, by Selectman Jack Petropoulos to BoS Chair Josh Degen, Degen “jumped on it like a hobo on a hamburger” in his words, and he and the town are working to take corrective action on this year’s performance review and previous years’ if a violation occurred.

Here’s the back story:

  • The Groton Town Charter contains instructions on how the annual performance review of the Town Manager should be conducted:
    4.1 (c) The board of selectmen shall provide for an annual review of the job performance of the town manager, which shall, at least in summary form, be a public record in accordance with the personnel bylaws or accepted evaluation process.
  • The Groton Line requested the location of the public record associated with Haddad’s reviews for the most recent year (2013) and all previous reviews on November 6. The town did not respond to the request. After two weeks, The Groton Line filed a Public Information Request for the reviews. This time, Town Clerk Michael Bouchard responded with the summaries of the performance reviews. (See Haddad Performance Reviews Elude Charter Mandate.)
  • Because performance reviews and the Open Meeting Law had been discussed in an OML Training Session sponsored by the Board of Selectmen earlier this year, a large number of town residents realized something was wrong. After the story was published, a number of residents, The Groton Line’s attorney, and several members of various town boards and commissions stated on the Talk About Groton email list that the town’s policy, even if it had been followed, violated the state Open Meeting Law. The Open Meeting Law requires that the performance reviews of employees who report to elected boards or commissions — such as the town manager, superintendent of the school district, manager of the electric light department, and others, to have those reviews (with a few exceptions) take place in open meetings of the elected body.
  • Independently of each other, Degen, Petropoulos, and The Groton Line all began looking at the situation and a possible OML violation.
  • Last Thursday, December 4, Petropoulos contacted Degen and formally raised the issue.
  • Degen contacted Town Clerk Michael Bouchard; town counsel at the law firm of Koppelman & Paige; and other town officials. He set up a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen to take place Monday, December 16, to discuss and resolve the issue. The issue was raised too late to include it on the agenda for the board’s December 8 meeting.
  • Today, December 7, The Groton Line filed an Open Meeting Law Complaint with the town to ensure that the town’s remedies address present, past, and future performance reviews of the town manager and that documents associated with the reviews are public records that are available to all town residents. The town has two weeks from Monday, December 8, to resolve the formal complaint or it can be escalated to the state attorney general’s office.

“I’m taking this extremely seriously,” Degen said. “I want it made clear that I’ve been on this from the moment I found out about it and that I met with Selectman Petropulos to see his information, and immediately contacted town counsel, and have a meeting with town counsel today (Friday, December 5) to talk about corrective remedies if in fact there was a violation. I’m trying to do the right thing here — I’m not worried about public pressure, or selectman pressure, or town manager pressure. You just do what you’re supposed to do, given the task that you’re tasked with.”

In The Groton Line complaint, the violation is described as (You can see the entire complaint form here.):

“In the first quarter of 2014, then Chairman of the Groton Board of Selectmen Peter Cunningham conducted the Town Manager’s 2013 annual performance review. He sent the Town Manager’s self-assessment to the four other selectmen by email for each one’s feedback and review. Selectmen responded to Cunningham, who summarized or included their comments into a master file. The individual selectmen’s reviews were available to other selectmen by request. Cunningham’s draft document was sent by email to all selectmen for comments. Comments were incorporated to create a final draft. That was circulated to selectmen and became the document of record. This seems to be serial communication outside of a meeting.

Neither the process, the documents, nor the result were discussed in open meeting, nor as far as I can tell, in executive session.

The same, or a similar, process may have been followed each year since 2010.

I believe that the Open Meeting Law requires that all performance evaluations and discussions of professional competence occur in open session, per “District Attorney for the Northern District v. School Committee of Wayland, 455 Mass. 561, 569 (2009).”

As explained by town counsel in an Open Meeting Law training session sponsored by the Board of Selectmen in response to a previous Open Meeting Law violation (The PowerPoint presentation presented at the training session is available here. — Ed.):
“PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS MUST BE CONDUCTED IN AN OPEN PROCESS
A process whereby Committee members independently submit written evaluations to the Chair to be incorporated Into a composite evaluation complies with the OML, so long as:
— the composite evaluation is presented in a duly noticed open meeting and
— the individual evaluations are appended to the minutes of that open meeting and made available to the public”

I first became aware of the potential OML violation in mid-November, 2014. The Town Charter declares:
“4.1 (c) The board of selectmen shall provide for an annual review of the job performance of the town manager, which shall, at least in summary form, be a public record in accordance with the personnel bylaws or accepted evaluation process.”

On November, 6, 2014, I asked the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Clerk for the complete job performance review of the Town Manager for 2013. No response. Two weeks later, I followed up with a Public Information Request for all individual drafts, emails, and component documents associated with creating the review. My response was answered with a copy of the summary for the Town Manager’s 2013 performance review and for previous years as well. However, the complete final draft and all earlier drafts and contributory remarks were specifically excluded because “The Town will not release the complete performance reviews citing that those documents are not public record.”

I consulted with several people, heard from readers, and concluded that per the AG’s office and Town Counsel’s information on performance evaluations, that the evaluation process was in violation of the OML.”

The complaint goes on to request a three-part remedy to the problem, or response to the complaint:

1. The Groton Board of Selectmen acknowledge the violation of the Open Meeting Law for the 2013 performance review and immediately release all documents associated with the review.

2. The Groton Board of Selectmen examine the procedure followed in previous years and if the OML was violated, release all documents from those reviews.

3. That the BoS propose an article at the 2015 Spring Town Meeting mandating that Town Manager reviews take place in open session and in compliance with the OML.

Cunningham, who was Chair of the BOS this spring and conducted Haddad’s 2013 performance review, acknowledged that in retrospect, the procedure he followed — which the town has used for years, when previous boards had evaluated the town administrator before the town charter was enacted — doesn’t seem to comply with the state Open Meeting Law.

“I’m certainly aware of some of the talk and chatter that’s gone on,” he said. “The final document is prepared at some point and that becomes part of the employee’s record. You don’t have five individual evaluations that are part of the employee’s record. When the final document is compiled … I think we probably fell short in that. We are in fact working with town counsel and I think we’ll remediate that. I also understand that there may be another complaint to the attorney general about an Open Meeting Law violation, and if that’s what happens, so be it. We are intending to address the concerns that we are aware of. We are intending to address that and to do it right.”


Dec 052014
 

Groton and many other towns in north central Massachusetts will apparently not be on the revised route of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct project. In a news release published today, Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s parent company, Kinder Morgan, announced that it was rerouting the proposed 30 or 36 inch natural gas supply line along existing power line right-of-ways in New York and New Hampshire. The new path would shift the pipeline away from many of the 45 Massachusetts towns that would have been on the route. The eastern terminus, in Dracut, remains the same as in the original proposal.


Revised NED pipeline route shifts to use utility right-of-ways in New Hampshire rather than private property in Massachusetts. Click to see a larger map.Kinder Morgan

Revised NED pipeline route shifts to use utility right-of-ways in New Hampshire rather than private property in Massachusetts. Click to see or download a larger map.

“I think it’s great news, that Kinder Morgan listened to the concerns of local communities,” Groton Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Josh Degen said. “I hope they learned a lesson about threatening to use eminent domain to take people’s private properties, and sensitive and conservation land when locating a pipeline route in the future. In the future, I hope they learn from this and strongly consider these alternative routes first, in all areas in which they propose locating a pipeline.”

Kinder Morgan Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Richard Wheatley wrote in an email that the official filing of the plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will take place on Monday, December 8. He said the change would not affect the project schedule, which calls for the pipeline to be supplying gas to New England in November, 2018.

Groton has been in the leading ranks of towns fighting the route of the pipeline or the assumption that a pipeline is needed, or both. Groton’s State Representative, Shelia Harrington, has taken a lead role in the Massachusetts state house in organizing other legislators and in encouraging Kinder Morgan to pursue alternate routes.

Massachusetts towns that are now off the revised pipeline route are Athol, Ashby, Ashburnham, Dunstable, Groton, Lenox, Orange, Pepperell, Pittsfield, Richmond, Royalston, Tyngsborough, Washington, and Winchendon.

Massachusetts towns that are on the revised route that were not on the first proposed route are Cheshire, Hancock, Lanesborough, and Shelburne.

The Kinder Morgan news release gives a few more details of the change:

HOUSTON, Dec. 5, 2014 — Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP), a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, Inc. (NYSE: KMI), is adopting two alternative routes for its proposed Northeast Energy Direct project to minimize environmental impact and allow for the expansion of natural gas service in the state of New Hampshire. Following a thorough evaluation of feasible route alternatives for the market path of the project from Wright, New York, to Dracut, Massachusetts, the company plans to submit an amended resource report filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday, Dec. 8. TGP plans to adopt both the New York Powerline Alternative and the New Hampshire Powerline Alternative, which will utilize existing utility corridors to lessen the environmental impact of the project. TGP is also notifying elected officials, federal and state regulatory agencies, and landowners in proximity to the proposed pipeline of its decision. TGP also noted the proposed route change will enable the company to avoid and substantially minimize the crossing of certain Article 97 properties and areas of critical environmental concern in Massachusetts.

“While evaluating the feasibility of possible routes, which is a critical part of the regulatory review prior to building a pipeline, as we committed to do when we started this process, we have listened to stakeholders and taken their comments and concerns seriously,” said East Region Pipelines President Kimberly S. Watson. “By adopting the New York Powerline Alternative and the New Hampshire Powerline Alternative, TGP will be able to construct significantly more of the pipeline adjacent to and parallel with existing utility corridors in portions of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, reduce the need for construction in undeveloped portions of the market path region and lessen environmental impacts. Additionally, we are working with Liberty Utilities and others to expand natural gas service into new areas in New Hampshire.”

In November, Liberty Utilities (Pipeline & Transmission) Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. (APUC), and a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, Inc. agreed to form a new entity, Northeast Expansion LLC, to undertake development, construction and ownership of a 30-inch or 36-inch natural gas transmission pipeline to be located between Wright, New York, and Dracut, Massachusetts. Under the agreement, APUC will initially subscribe for a 2.5 percent interest in the new entity, with an opportunity to increase its participation up to 10 percent.

the Fed Project is being developed to serve specifically the New England region. The New England region, as a whole, stands to benefit from the NED Project as it will bring additional gas supplies to meet the growth needs of local distribution companies, enable New England to sustain its reliance on natural gas-fired generation and lower energy costs by providing scalable transportation capacity attached to lower cost, nearby domestic and abundant Marcellus natural gas supplies. As part of TGP’s fully integrated natural gas pipeline transportation system, the project will provide additional access to diverse supplies of natural gas to customers in the New England region.

With the adoption of the New York Powerline Alternative and the New Hampshire Powerline Alternative, the proposed revised route will now include: approximately 188 miles of new and co-located mainline pipeline facilities, including about 53 miles of pipeline generally co-located with TGP’s existing 200 Line and an existing power utility corridor in western New York near the proposed Market Path Mid Station No. 1; approximately 64 miles of pipeline generally co-located with an existing power utility corridor in eastern Massachusetts; and approximately 71 miles of pipeline generally co-located with an existing power utility corridor in southern New Hampshire, extending east to the proposed Dracut, Massachusetts, Market Path Tail Station. As currently contemplated, exclusive of laterals, the route would be adjacent to or co-located with existing rights of way for approximately 90 percent of the mileage. TGP’s filing will reflect the revisions to and a full description of the proposed route and proposed project facilities.

TGP plans to host open houses in the project area beginning in mid January 2015 to provide additional information and answer questions. The open house schedule will be sent to landowners in proximity to the proposed pipeline, towns and communities, and elected officials when the dates and locations for those open houses have been established. The schedule will also be filed with the FERC and posted on the NED Project website: www.kindermorgan.com.


Dec 012014
 

Town Manager Mark Haddad's annual performance reviews have not been made public as the  Groton Town Charter requiresArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Town Manager Mark Haddad’s annual performance reviews have not been made public as the Groton Town Charter requires

At the beginning of Monday evening’s Board of Selectman’s meeting, Town Manager Mark Haddad paged through the Town Charter, reviewing the sections spelling out his and the Board of Selectmen’s duties and responsibilities. Notable by its absence was any mention of section 4.1 (c) of the charter, which calls for public posting of the Town Manager’s annual job review by the Board of Selectmen.

The charter reads:

4.1 (c) The board of selectmen shall provide for an annual review of the job performance of the town manager, which shall, at least in summary form, be a public record in accordance with the personnel bylaws or accepted evaluation process.

Since Haddad was hired as the town’s first Town Manager six years ago, that section has not been followed. The annual review has taken place most years. The results of the review, however, have been closely held. Although they may be “a public record,” neither the reviews nor the summaries have never been made available, either by freely available printed copies or by posting on the town website.

On November 6, The Groton Line requested copies of Haddad’s performance reviews from Board of Selectman Chair Josh Degen and Town Clerk Michael Bouchard, citing section 4.1 (c). Degen responded promptly, writing in an email that “I will attempt to get you an answer as quickly as possible.”

Then nothing happened. No communications from the town.

On Saturday, November 15, just short of two weeks after the first request for documents that are supposed to be freely available, The Groton Line filed a Public Information Request for the documents the charter calls “public.” The request included these details:

This request is for the entire job performance review as well as the so-called “summary.”

Finally, this request also requests all communications or any kind between members of the Board of Selectmen, Mark Haddad, and/or any legal counsel related to the release of the job performance reviews from November 6, 2014 through the date this email is received and actionable by town officials — November 17, 2014.

On November 19, Town Clerk Bouchard replied:

Please find attached copies of the “summaries” of Mr. Haddad’s performance reviews for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, which are the responsive documents to this request. Please note that no performance review was written in 2013 as the then Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Stuart Shulman [sic], stated that the renewal of Mr. Haddad’s contract served as his review.

The Town will not release the complete performance reviews citing that those documents are not public records under exemption (c) of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 4 Section 7 (26) “personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”.

The town reply did not explain how the job performance of a public employee could be “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” It also did not address the part of the Public Information Request requesting any communications related to the release of the performance reviews. The Groton Line has 90 days to file an appeal with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office for the documents that were not delivered.

Asked about the lack of a performance review of Haddad while he was leading the BoS, Schulman said that at the time, he didn’t know that the review was required by the town charter. “I didn’t think the review was required because we renewed his contract. It simply didn’t happen,” he said.

The renewal of Haddad’s contract in 2013, for a second three year term expiring in 2016, occurred out of the normal renewal cycle. Last year Haddad asked for and received an early renewal and renegotiation after his first three-year contract.

Haddad’s performance review summaries appear not to have been posted to the town website, but you can see the generally glowing performance reviews here.