EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 27, 2013

Salem selectmen opt not to pursue investigation

By John Toole

---- — SALEM — Selectman Stephen Campbell cast the deciding vote Monday to reconsider a board investigation of a town official’s complaint against him.

Campbell seconded Selectman Everett McBride’s reconsideration motion, then voted with McBride and Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves in the 3-2 decision.

Selectmen Michael Lyons and Jim Keller dissented, but then voted with the others in support of Hargreaves’ plan to have Campbell first meet with offended town employees to try to resolve their differences.

Hargreaves said he and staff will report back to the board by March 11.

During a brief discussion, lasting about 10 minutes, Keller stressed, and Hargreaves acknowledged, the board could pursue an investigation of Campbell later if it chooses.

Two weeks ago, selectmen agreed to pursue an independent investigation of human resources director Molly McKean’s accusation that Campbell acted in an “aggressive and intimidating” manner when seeking information about a severance package for former building inspector Sam Zannini.

Town Administrator Keith Hickey told selectmen at the time three other employees had threatened to file hostile work environment claims against the town involving Campbell.

Campbell has defended his actions, saying he only speaks with employees with Hickey’s permission. He has said he may not be the favorite selectman of some employees because of his fiscally conservative approach to town government.

Hargreaves told the board Campbell and other employees he didn’t name would meet after they return from vacation for a discussion aimed at resolving the situation.

The discussion followed a brief executive, or closed, session of the board.

Hargreaves read a statement addressing the Campbell matter.

“It is expected by each member of this board to conduct themselves in such a manner always showing respect for others, despite your personal feelings,” Hargreaves said.

An investigation would cost the board $300 an hour, as much as $20,000 to complete, Hargreaves said.

“I can figure better ways of spending 20 grand,” he said.

He said officials bringing the matter to him wanted it resolved outside an investigation.

“This is how I’m trying to handle it,” Hargreaves said.

“So, the individuals involved are going to discuss and resolve it between them to some sort of satisfaction?” McBride asked.

“Correct,” Hargreaves replied.

Keller asked Campbell if he had anything to add.

“Not at the moment,” Campbell replied.

Yesterday, Campbell emphasized he can’t say much about the matter because it involves town personnel, but appeared satisfied with the direction the board was taking.

“I think sitting down with the employee is a great thing,” he said, “and I have great hopes we can work things out between us, move forward and have a great relationship.”

Campbell, acknowledging state law is weak on the subject of conflict of interest by public officials, said he did not think his voting on the investigation question was improper.

“I obviously thought it was appropriate,” Campbell said.

None of his colleagues questioned his action during the meeting.