EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 29, 2014

Suspended county attorney invited to budget meeting

Delegation asks suspended attorney to speak

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — BRENTWOOD — Interim Rockingham County Attorney James Boffetti thought nothing of it Saturday when he received an email saying the budget meeting he was to attend at his office Monday morning was canceled.

What he didn’t learn until Monday afternoon was that the meeting actually was held. The meeting was moved to the county complex and he wasn’t invited, but suspended County Attorney James Reams was.

“I thought there was an illness or something and it had to be rescheduled,” Boffetti said yesterday.

But Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, vice chairman of the county legislative delegation’s executive committee, said he didn’t think a temporary county official should be handling the office’s fiscal year budget.

He consulted with other committee members, including clerk and Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham. Weyler said he then directed a staff member to notify Boffetti not to come and asked that Reams, who faces sexual harassment and other allegations, show up. Weyler also changed the meeting venue Friday.

“Why would we turn to a temporary person to do the budget for the whole year?” Weyler said. “He may not be allowed to do prosecutions, but he hasn’t been reprised of the position he was elected to do. It seemed to me Jim Reams should be invited. ... I have no regrets.”

Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general, has been filling in since Reams’ prosecutorial authority was revoked by Attorney General Joseph Foster in November.

Reams was suspended by county commissioners amid allegations of management and operational issues within the office. Later, the 15-year county attorney found himself defending his reputation against allegations of sexual harassment and improper diversion of county funds.

“I can tell you I didn’t touch any woman sexually in that office or any other place,” Reams said last month. “I think there are agendas at work here. It’s clearly to make me unelectable.”

Reams said yesterday he just did what he was asked to do as an elected official.

“I got called by the legislative delegation over the weekend and asked if I could come and comment on Monday,” Reams said. “I downloaded the budget and made some comments.”

Weyler said Reams was able to answer questions on several budget issues, including a high turnover rate in the office.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Weyler said.

County commissioners said they were shocked to learn the same man they suspended was answering questions about a budget that Boffetti presented to delegation members Thursday.

“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” commission Chairman Katharin Pratt said. “I didn’t know what the intention was and I didn’t know what the reason was.”

Pratt, the commission’s representative, said she went to the meeting Monday morning and was surprised to learn it had been moved.

She was even more surprised to find Reams, not Boffetti, answering questions. The issue of why Reams was there was not raised at the meeting, she said.

“It seemed to be a foregone conclusion,” she said.

County Commissioners Kevin Coyle and Thomas Tombarello were angry to later learn that Reams was invited to the meeting and Boffetti was told it was canceled.

Coyle criticized Weyler and Waterhouse, who could not be reached for comment.

“They seem to be running this budget process and have run amok,” he said. “They have appointed themselves as czars of the budget.”

Coyle, who has run against Reams for county attorney in the past, was also critical of the suspended administrator. He said Reams should not have attended the meeting.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Coyle said. “He should have known better.”

Tombarello agreed, saying he wants answers.

“I was really surprised,” he said. “I want to know what happened.”

Associate Attorney General Jane Young, who has said Reams is the target of a criminal investigation, declined yesterday to comment on whether Reams should have been allowed to participate in the meeting. She did say Foster only revoked Reams’ authority as a prosecutor.