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November 2, 2012

Storm stirs up frustration in Salem

Selectmen irked by barbs on hurricane performance

SALEM — Sometimes, it takes a calamity to bring out the best — and worst — in people.

Three days after Sandy forced cancellation of their meeting Monday, selectmen met last night to tackle some key budgetary issues.

Whether it was dealing with a proposal to spend up to $100,000 on computer system upgrades, $90,000 to repair two roads or responding to residents' concerns, frustrations mounted, the kind of frustration that can easily surface when a powerful storm, such as Sandy, knocks out power for three days.

More than 7,300 Salem homes and businesses lost electricity, including some that were severely damaged by falling trees. Town Hall and local schools closed until Wednesday.

Town Manager Keith Hickey praised the town's Police, Fire and Public Works departments for their handling of the storm. Selectmen's Chairman Patrick Hargreaves also offered his compliments, thanking Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten for how his department responded to the storm.

But the usual easygoing Hargreaves became angry later during the more than three and a half hour meeting when he described some of the telephone messages received at Town Hall during the storm.

Hargreaves said he was appalled when fielding voicemail messages left with Hickey's office. They included a call from someone who said Salem needed a new town manager because of his poor response to the storm, a call from a man upset because he couldn't register his car during Sandy, and complaints from neighbors who said the generator used to power Town Hall was too noisy.

"He did everything he was expected to do 100 percent," Hargreaves said of Hickey. "We apologize if the noise from the generator kept you awake ... We do care about the people."

Hargreaves said the town also received calls from people unhappy that trick or treating was moved from Wednesday to Sunday. "We moved it because 45 percent of Salem was without power until 6:15 p.m. (Wednesday)," he said.

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