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March 26. 2013 9:46PM

Salem selectmen spar over election of officers

SALEM - The Board of Selectmen had a lot to discuss during this week's meeting, and not all of it was cordial.

At the start of Monday night's meeting, when board members elected the year's new officers, Selectmen Stephen Campbell nominated himself as secretary, Everett McBride Jr. as chairman and former chairman Patrick Hargreaves as vice chairman. It was then that the former vice chairman James Keller voiced his objections.

"I'm abstaining from this vote for simple reasons," Keller said. "It's disappointing to me, personally."

Keller said that while he has no problem with McBride on a personal level, he became irritated with the selection process after phoning McBride the previous week to ask him why he wasn't included in the selection process.

"He told me three votes were all that were needed," Keller said. "He didn't ask me for support, he didn't ask me to collaborate. It's very disappointing, as I felt we'd all worked hard to cooperate with each other last year."

Keller abstained from the vote on new officers Monday night.

Selectmen Michael Lyons abstained as well, though he didn't offer further comment on the matter. The remaining three selectmen voted in favor of the board reorganization, and Campbell's motion passed. Taking over the gavel and shaking Hargreaves' hand, McBride said he didn't foresee "any great changes with how the board works."

"I think things will go pretty well, and we'll keep on working together," said McBride, who vowed to continue discussions on the board's code of ethics at an upcoming meeting.

The evening's tension subsided until the end of the meeting, when two board members were accused of leaking information to a member of the news media following a nonpublic meeting in February.

Campbell referred to a Feb. 13 story in the Eagle Tribune and accused Lyons and Keller of discussing nonpublic details about a $42,000 severance payment to former chief building official Sam Zannini with a newspaper reporter.

"It appears from this article that two selectmen may have discussed a nonpublic meeting," Campbell said, noting he wanted to bring the matter to the board's attention.

"I only know what I read," he continued. "My understanding is you can't tell anyone, even a reporter, what the subject matter was."

Lyons was visibly angered by Campbell's accusations and said he read the article in question and didn't see any wrongdoing on his part.

Lyons added that he was "frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process of discussing things behind closed doors" and had previously requested that the topic be discussed publicly only to have the other board members disagree.

"Anyone whose performance is discussed has the right to have it discussed in public," he said. "My point is, I want transparency on this. It's been a problem for a number of years, and we need to clean up our act."

Keller said his response when a reporter asked about the meeting was "no comment."

"In terms of my reputation, I told (the reporter) no comment, that it was against the law and I'd never do that," Keller said.

Ultimately the board members agreed to take a closer look at the bylaws in hopes of achieving consistency with its policies on private meetings in the future.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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