By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Four selectmen want an outside investigation into the behavior of their colleague, Selectman Stephen Campbell.
Campbell is known for his determination in digging to get answers to town issues. But now, he’s dug himself into a deep hole.
The other selectmen voted Monday for an investigation of Campbell by either the county attorney or another outside party.
That move happened after human resources director Molly McKean accused Campbell of acting in an “aggressive and intimidating” manner toward her.
McKean told the board Monday that Campbell was confrontational recently when he approached her about a severance package paid to a former town employee. Campbell, unable to find Town Manager Keith Hickey, questioned her about the payment instead, she said.
“It came across as aggressive and hostile,” McKean said. “It was very clear to me he was angry.”
It wasn’t the first time either, she said.
Hickey said three other town employees have threatened to file hostile work environment claims against the town, all stemming from incidents involving Campbell.
“It puts them in a very uncomfortable position,” Hickey told selectmen. “There is an issue here that is potentially putting the town at risk of litigation.”
But Campbell defended his actions, saying he usually consults with Hickey before speaking to a town employee and that the town manager never objects.
He said he didn’t think he was out of line when he asked McKean about the severance payment.
“If I have to, I will go through the town manager 100 percent of the time to avoid this sort of thing,” he said.
The employee who received the severance deal wasn’t mentioned by name during the meeting. But the name of former chief building inspector Sam Zannini was included in a Feb. 1 memo from McKean to Hickey.
Copies of that memo were distributed to selectmen.
“I’m sorry if you found anything I said intimidating,” Campbell told her. “I don’t see that I did anything wrong.”
Campbell and Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves, who defended Campbell for his “passionate” desire to get answers, said they were unaware of incidents involving three other employees.
Campbell said it’s no surprise some town employees don’t appreciate his conservative fiscal approach.
“I know because of my voting record, I may not be their favorite selectman,” he said.
Campbell said yesterday he doesn’t have any malice toward anyone for raising the issue.
“(McKean) did what she felt she had to do and I don’t think I did anything wrong,” she said. “It’s a difference of opinion.”
Selectman Everett McBride said the issue had become a distraction. Selectmen must deal with more important matters, including the town budget, he said, but acknowledged more courtesy is needed.
“I just think we all have to be respectful of one another, that’s all,” he said.
But Selectmen James Keller and Michael Lyons said they were taken aback. Lyons asked the board to express its dissatisfaction with Campbell’s behavior through a formal vote.
“The way this memo is worded is troubling,” Lyons said. “I think this is pretty significant here.”
“No employee in this town should feel intimidated by a member of this board — never, for any reason,” he said.
“This is pretty serious stuff.”
Keller recommended an investigation be conducted by the county attorney, attorney general or another investigator after Hargreaves said there wasn’t much the board could do.
“This board can do something if it wants to,” Keller said.
“I’m pretty ticked and motivated to get someone outside of town to take a look at this.”
Selectmen voted, 4-0-1, to launch an investigation. Campbell abstained.
Keller said yesterday the board will have to decide at its next meeting who would investigate the matter.
Hargreaves and Hickey are scheduled to discuss the issue further tomorrow.