By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Town Manager Keith Hickey said yesterday he has taken action to stop town employees from complaining to residents that they are “overworked and underpaid” and should speak to selectmen.
“I’ve addressed it and that’s all I’m going to say,” he said.
Hickey said he was surprised to hear from Selectman Patrick Hargreaves during the board’s meeting Monday night that town employees are telling Town Hall customers they should take all their problems to selectmen.
“It is completely inappropriate,” Hickey said. “I expect it to stop occurring.”
In a five-minute outburst at the end of a nearly four-hour meeting, Hargreaves said he was angry and frustrated to have residents stop off at his business and say they were told at Town Hall to speak to him.
“I had people come to my shop that were very dissatisfied with things that were happening in town,” he said. “They were complaining about inspections and not getting things done in a proper manner.”
Hargreaves said he usually doesn’t mind when residents want to speak to him about town issues.
But when 20 residents, including three major developers, stopped off at his shop, Pat’s Lock “N” Key on North Broadway, last week to complain about problems with town services, it was just too much to take. Hargreaves said he couldn’t get his work done.
“When (town employees) are telling them, ‘Go talk to selectmen because we are overworked and underpaid,’ and they are interfering with my business, I have a problem with this,” Hargreaves said. “I really felt it was done on purpose.”
He said complaints originated from the offices in the Town Hall basement, where the town clerk and tax collector offices are located.
Town Clerk Susan Wall and Deputy Tax Collector Donna Bergeron declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to Hickey. Tax Collector Cheryl-Ann Bolouk was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Hargreaves said he ends up fielding the brunt of complaints about town services because the other selectmen either work in Massachusetts or do not have a business in town that people visit.
Hickey apologized to Hargreaves.
He said any town employee who complains they are overworked and overpaid will be “underworked and not paid.”
Hickey said yesterday he had no prior knowledge of the situation and did not have a reason to doubt Hargreaves’ allegations.
“I don’t think Pat overreacted,” he said.
Hickey said town employees who have complaints should bring them to their supervisor, not the public.
He said more than a dozen town jobs, including a few inspection positions, have been eliminated in the last few years, but morale is not a big problem and the work is still getting done — just not as quick as previously.
“We will continue to do the best we can,” he said.
Other selectmen came to Hargreaves’ defense, including Stephen Campbell.
“I understand how the staff feels the way they do, but there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to express that,” he said. “If it is anything like Mr. Hargreaves describes, I think we are well over the line.”
Chairman Everett McBride said town employees need to adjust to the changes.
“We made decisions and we are going to live with those decisions and the staff has to do the same,” he said.