The Board of Selectmen attempted to write the final chapter in the months-long controversy surrounding Town Manager Mark Haddad’s “inappropriate” electronic relationship with town resident Meghan Volpe by having Chairwoman Anna Eliot read a brief statement near the end of its regular Monday evening meeting. The statement noted that private investigator Arthur Parker’s report into Haddad’s actions between February and November 2011 had been received and acted upon, and was available “for review and inspection” in the town clerk’s office.
No copies of the report were distributed at the meeting, nor was it available on the town’s web site. (A copy was obtained from Michael Bouchard, Groton Town Clerk as soon as his office opened Tuesday morning. Click to see the PDF.)
Despite the lack of copies for review, Eliot stated: “We believe the findings speak for themselves. The board has expressed its displeasure that the town manager would engage in conduct that would cause a distraction and result in unnecessary expenses for the town. Mark has been contrite throughout this matter and understands that his actions were inappropriate. To confirm the Board’s position that his actions were indeed inappropriate and reflected adversely on town government, we have placed a letter of disapproval in Mark’s employment file and informed him that any future such conduct will not be tolerated.”
She continued: “Nevertheless, we support Mark and his performance as town manager and his appointment and do not believe that his private actions here will effect his ability to serve as town manager in the future.” Eliot concluded by saying: “The Board considers this matter closed.”
The Board passed a vote of confidence in Haddad by a vote of 4-1 during a closed-door meeting on February 22. Because the action took place in executive session, it was not known which selectman made the motion that led to the vote of confidence, but according to the statement that Eliot read, Selectman Josh Degen cast the sole opposing vote.
In addition to Parker’s report, Selectman Peter Cunningham said that “Additional information did come to light, and the board did not feel that additional investigation was warranted, based on the nature of the information.”
Degen expanded on that, saying: “Based on Selectman Cunningham’s response… I did attempt to bring forward information during executive session and this board, through a motion, chose not to allow it to be introduced. So while some of the information was discussed in generality, none of the information was brought forward. I had a Powerpoint presentation that I wanted to present, and that was not allowed by the board.”
Eliot testily refused three times to answer a reporter’s question about a key focus of the investigation — whether Haddad used town resources to send and receive phone calls, instant messages, and emails, repeatedly telling the reporter to get a copy of the report.
Cunningham defused the situation by calmly and politely answering the reporter, saying: “We did not feel that there was any misappropriation of town resources. The investigation did identify area which are not unique to Mr. Haddad or anyone else in a work situation who may use resources at work (phone and computer) for certain personal issues and things that come up. That’s an area that we will ask our human resources department to look at and to draft some policies to clarify some of the nuances in the way that policy is interpreted.”
Selectman Fran Dillon noted that some existing town policies and procedures were not followed by the board. Apparently the investigator’s report also makes some recommendations about changing some policies or making new policies, to deal with similar situations.
Although she had not yet seen the report, Volpe said in an email: “The investigation should conclude that I never once lied, and that the time frame of conversations and communications shows that Mr. Haddad did in fact use his town-paid-for cell phone and computer and communicated with me on non-town-essential issues during town business hours and critical town meetings. And yet, it seems that some of the Board has determined they don’t care about this evidence, or that there was unethical and immoral behavior by the TM, which is clearly contrary to the stipulations of our Town Charter.”
“It is shocking to me that the Board would spend taxpayer money to investigate a matter and then ignore the results. What was the point? I am at a loss for words for how something like this can happen in our day and age, but it should never be allowed to happen again. I truly hope the BoS decides to adopt the recommendations made by Mr. Parker. I want to thank Josh Degen for being the only Selectman to publicly display his outrage over the situation of the last four months.”