SALEM — The relationship between Selectman Stephen Campbell and Town Manager Keith Hickey has often been strained, at best.
At Monday night’s board meeting, Campbell asked fellow selectmen to consider taking some action relating to Hickey stemming from a chain of events earlier this summer.
On July 1, 2nd District Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., was scheduled to visit the Salem Fire Department to announce a new bill on carbon monoxide poisoning prevention. Hickey and other town staff were scheduled to attend that event, as well as another event on highway funding later in the day with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
However, the fire station visit was relocated after two selectmen, Campbell and Everett McBride, expressed concerns about a political candidate using town property for what they characterized as a political event.
In the wake of those events, Hickey made comments to another media outlet that he felt pressured to cancel the event with Kuster after receiving an email from Campbell and phone calls from McBride.
Although the issue came up at a board meeting early in July, on Monday night, Campbell requested that the board discuss Hickey’s comments to the media, as well as a later text message that Hickey sent to Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves.
In that text message, Hickey called Campbell “passive aggressive,” and said that he was warned and threatened not to go ahead with the Kuster event.
On Monday night, Campbell said that he does not have an issue with disagreements over policy, but that phrases like passive aggressive, warning, and threatening went beyond policy disagreements and were attacks on his character.
“Enough is enough,” said Campbell, who asked the board if any other members were in favor of discussing the issue with the town’s legal counsel to see if there was any possible action that could be taken.
“I’m a selectman and I am entitled to have my opinions,” said Campbell. “This is not working, in my mind. I wish this board would take a stand to protect their members so they can do their jobs.”
While Campbell suggested that Hickey’s newspaper and text comments be brought up in a non-public meeting, Hickey requested that the issue be discussed in public.
Hickey said he wrote the text message to Hargreaves and knew that it was highly likely that Hargreaves would show the message to Campbell. Hickey said he stood by his statement, and noted that Campbell has criticized him weekly either at meetings, or more often, through his public Facebook page.
“On a weekly basis, there have been comments that are not accurate or at least not completely accurate,” said Hickey.
No selectmen besides Campbell were interested in taking the issue any further.
Selectman Michael Lyons said he believes Hickey has done a good job overall as town manager, and questioned Campbell as to why he would take issue with Hickey criticizing him when he regularly criticizes Hickey.
Campbell replied that his criticism is based on policy, not personal attacks.
“I will put this to rest, to bed, bury it in the ground, and hopefully it will not be brought up again,” said Hargreaves.