SALEM — When chief building official Sam Zannini was honored at his retirement party in December, some may have thought that was the last they would hear of the 36-year town employee.
It might have been until Monday night. That’s when the town’s elimination of Zannini’s job as of Dec. 31 — and a $42,000 severance payment to him — became the focus of a confrontation between Selectman Stephen Campbell and Molly McKean, the town human resources director.
McKean appeared before selectmen to describe an encounter she had with Campbell Feb. 1. Campbell went to Town Hall to speak to Town Manager Keith Hickey.
He spoke to McKean instead because Hickey was unavailable.
McKean said Campbell became angry about Zannini’s severance payment, but she did not mention the former employee by name. But Zannini’s name was included in a memo McKean sent to Hickey.
Copies of that memo were distributed to selectmen and discussed in a nonpublic session prior to selectmen’s regular meeting Monday.
McKean and Hickey said there have been three other confrontations between Campbell and town employees. The incidents prompted the four other selectmen to request an investigation of their colleague.
Campbell defended his actions Monday night, saying he didn’t think he was out of line when he questioned McKean. He said she even offered to provide additional information, but he didn’t need it.
Campbell also said he didn’t realize he upset other employees in his quest for answers to key town issues.
“I’m sorry if you think it’s intimidating,” he told McKean. “But that kind of expense came as a complete surprise.”
Campbell also didn’t identify Zannini by name, but said selectmen should have known about the severance agreement.
Board Vice Chairman James Keller and Selectman Michael Lyons said the severance payment was discussed in nonpublic session before Monday night’s meeting and that they could not comment in detail.