Allegations Surround Salem Selectman

March 20, 2015
 

by the Salem Community Patriot staff

Mounting complaints by town staff regarding interaction with an elected official are causing the Salem Board of Selectmen to review and update bylaws.

The discussion comes after an incident report was filed by Library Director Alison Baker, along with an email from Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin and letter to selectmen’s past Chairman Patrick Hargreaves, regarding interactions with Selectman Stephen Campbell.

In the report dated Feb. 23, Baker states Campbell angrily approached her in the children’s room, questioning why a display with information regarding the proposed public safety complex was allowed in the lobby of the building.

“He went on to say it was an unfortunate path that the library had started down; that it was the kind of decision and action that caused lack of trust.  That it is lack of trust that causes the challenges in getting funding for such projects,” Baker wrote in her report.

Baker goes on to say Campbell was “quietly angry,” and “to some degree menacing.”

She adds in the report, “to me, the comments about how this all would cause a lack of trust and thus problems with funding sounded like a threat.”

Baker also notes both Republicans and Democrats utilize meeting rooms at the library, and those groups host political candidates and discussions.

“I didn’t feel personally threatened,” she wrote, “but felt that he was trying to scare me and the trustees into changing their decision.”

Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin sent an email to Town Manager Keith Hickey regarding an interaction he had with Campbell three days before Baker, and stated Campbell said he believed the town manager, selectmen’s chairman, and Selectman James Keller should resign for violating town policy in allowing display boards with information on the proposed safety complex to be posted in the municipal office building.

“He was upset that what he considered to be political material (the safety complex poster and handouts) had been placed in town hall, which in his opinion violated town policy,” Goodwin wrote.

A letter to past Chairman Patrick Hargreaves by Kelley Library Board of Trustees Chairwoman Martha Breen asked that information requests from the board be made from chairperson to chairperson, to keep a documentable information path.

Breen noted the interaction with Campbell and Baker, and said the decision to post the information on the safety complex proposal was made by the board of trustees, and endorsed by selectmen 4-1 on the night of Feb. 23, with only Campbell in opposition.

“Because Selectman Campbell brought this matter to the attention of Salem’s Board of Selectmen, he himself deemed the issue as a concern of the selectmen. “  If Selectman Campbell wished to act upon the matter as a member of the public, he could have addressed the issue at the next meeting of the trustees as this is current trustee policy,” Breen wrote.

But Campbell said at Monday’s meeting the allegations were based on the fact that he disagreed with town staff, and in doing so, they believed it was harassment.

“If you say anything but high praise, then there seems to be a problem,” he said.  “If you don’t say happy things, that’s when the lawyer threatens you with legal action.”

Regarding the library, Campbell said it wasn’t controlled by the selectmen, so he was only speaking to Baker as a resident.

“The library doesn’t work for the selectmen,” Campbell said, adding employees were under the direction of the trustees.

Campbell also said the memo from Goodwin was incorrect; stating he did not call for Hickey, Hargreaves, and Keller to resign but rather stated they should if they violated policy.

“If the town manager was violating a board of selectmen policy, he should be terminated,” Campbell said.

He went on to say he has faced repeated allegations from town employees, citing a complaint in 2014 that he harassed a firefighter at Market Basket, but a copy of the store’s security footage reveals there was no interaction.

Campbell also noted a complaint from the police association against him, but noted the letter only discussed items he spoke about with others and that there was not direct interaction with police department employees.

“No one ever asked for my side,” he said.  “It was one sided.  It was a kangaroo court; it was just like the Soviet Union.”

Campbell said the accusations against him started almost immediately after he was elected to the board, but he has chosen not to take action against the town.

“It’s so hard to sue when you’re an elected official,” he said.

Selectman Michael Lyons made a motion to censure Campbell, citing the recent complaints along with past reports and meeting minutes, which the board stated incidents would be thoroughly investigated.

Chairman James Keller said regardless if a selectman is speaking as an elected official or a town resident, being elected to the position gives the individual implied authority.

“I have implied authority as a selectman,” Keller said.  “If I was someone guiding you, I would just say stay out of harm’s way.”

The motion to censure Campbell failed 2-3 with Lyons and Keller in the minority.  The board will review the bylaws regarding the matter.