Campbell Wants Public Apology, Calls Investigation ‘Witch Hunt’

December 20, 2013
by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

An investigation into allegations brought before selectmen, regarding an altercation between a board member and town employee, has been disproved after a brief investigation by the town manager.

A letter discussed by selectmen during the December 9 meeting stated an employee of the fire department made a mistake when he told members of the department he was harassed by Selectman Stephen Campbell in Market Basket before Thanksgiving.

“There was never a confrontation between Selectman Campbell and a firefighter,” said Chairman Everett McBride.

The investigation was prompted when a letter sent to Town Manager Keith Hickey by Salem Public Administrators Association President Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten alleged Campbell had harassed a firefighter in Market Basket.  “Mr. Campbell is frankly one step away from being sued civilly and personally, with the Town of Salem being liable as well,” the letter stated.

That conversation has since been disproved.  Hickey was able to obtain video surveillance from Market Basket that showed Campbell did not, in fact, speak with a uniformed town employee.

“The conversation did not occur based on review of the tapes,” McBride said.  “I think Selectman Campbell’s owed an apology.”

Campbell feels he deserves a public apology since the allegations were brought to light in the public eye, but have been disproven.  “I believe I’m owed a public apology by the three individuals from that union that signed that letter based on nothing,” he said.  “It was done in an unprofessional way and as far as I’m concerned, it was a witch hunt.”

Campbell said upon review of the tapes, he was in the store less than five minutes and did not speak with a firefighter.  “At no time does that show me from the minute I entered that premises to when I exited talking to a uniformed town employee.”

When the allegations originally came up, Campbell sat quietly.  “The reason why two weeks ago I was careful what I said was because I didn’t know anything,” he said, adding someone could have overheard him on the phone or talking to someone about town business.  “I speak to many people at Market Basket, unless it’s the very next day, I’m never going to remember it.”

Campbell accused the union of bringing up the allegations because of recent concerns raised regarding town employees’ overtime.  “Certain people wanted it to be true because they don’t like me asking about overtime.”  “I am owed apologies,” he said.  “They got me in public.”

Campbell said the town manager needed to address the situation.  “This stops now Mr. Town Manager, you have a personnel problem.”

Hickey responded saying the employee made a mistake.  When returning to the fire department the un-named employee said Campbell had harassed him but when interviewed by Fire Chief Kevin Breen and Hickey, he could not be sure it was Campbell.

“I don’t think it was politically motivated at this point,” Hickey added.

The town manager responded to Campbell’s concerns about questioning a person’s integrity.  “The public questioning of people’s integrity goes both ways,” he said.  I would love very much to have it end right now.”

Hickey said he often faces integrity questions.  “I am exhausted of reading things publically questioning my integrity,” he said.  “All I got is my integrity,” adding, “It goes both ways.”

McBride praised Hickey for investigating the matter.  “He did a thorough investigation.”

Selectman Michael Lyons said the matter should have been investigated immediately.  He said an agreement between the board and human resource director states all incidents will be investigated immediately and thoroughly.  “For this to come from the union means it wasn’t investigated immediately,” he said.  “I am tired of the lack of transparency; I want things out there when they happen if they deserve to be out there.”

The original letter by Patten also addressed concerns Campbell had raised during a meeting about town employees working excessive amounts of overtime and the possibility of injury when an employee is overtired.  “Research would show at the police department that all of the sustained injuries had nothing to do with the amount of hours the employee had worked that day or week, and most of the officers who have been injured in the line of duty / retired were not officers who worked a lot of extra hours,” the letter stated.

Campbell had suggested the board look into a policy limiting the number of hours a town employee could work in a week.

Patten wrote Campbell’s primary concerns were with employee earnings rather than injuries.  He said the police department is very active and details for road construction, along with many other overtime opportunities, required officers to work additional hours and that the department was not allowed to hire additional staff to fill the shifts.  “Overtime and details are not only covered in longstanding collective bargaining agreements, but also in comprehensive department policy,” the letter stated.