Selectman's Behavior Under Scrutiny
An investigation into the questionable behavior of a board member will take place.
The Salem Board of Selectmen voted to launch an investigation into the questionable behavior of one of their own.
Concerns surrounding Selectman Stephen Campbell’s interactions with members of town staff were raised at the board’s meeting Monday evening in response to an incident involving Campbell and Human Resources Director Molly McKean.
In a memo to Town Manager Keith Hickey, McKean describes an unpleasant interaction she had with Campbell a couple weeks ago, during which she alleges Campbell’s demeanor was “aggressive and intimidating.”
McKean told the board she has fielded complaints from at least three other town employees that Campbell “has been aggressive or hostile to them.”
Hickey said those three employees have threatened to file hostile work environment claims against the town.
“We’re trying to be here to make the board aware in the only forum we can that there’s an issue here that’s potentially putting the town at risk for litigation,” he said.
While stressing the importance of addressing the issue “head on,” McKean told the board she was not seeking punishment or sanction; instead, McKean hoped discussing the issue would improve communication between members of the board and staff.
McKean said if the communication issue is resolved and inappropriate interactions between Campbell and town staff are eliminated; she believes the chances of litigation against the town are “close to zero.”
“I don’t think there’s an imminent threat of litigation,” she said.
In his defense, Campbell argued he tries to channel all his interactions with town staff through the town manager to avoid such conflict with town staff.
Campbell said his concern regarding severance paid to a town employee, which he was not aware of and wanted to inform the board of, led to the interaction between himself and McKean. When the town manager was unavailable to discuss the matter, Campbell went to McKean for the information he needed.
“I’m sorry if you think I was intimidating, but that expenditure came as a complete surprise,” Campbell told McKean. “I don’t see where I did anything wrong.”
Chairman Patrick Hargreaves noted Campbell can be “passionate,” like himself.
“Sometimes that passion comes out to the point I have been accused of being threatening,” Hargreaves said, adding that Campbell is generally “just trying to get the right answer.”
Campbell argued he does not recall his behavior as being aggressive or intimidating and said, “Just because it’s in a memo doesn’t mean it’s true.”
“I tried to be careful; I just wanted to know why that severance was paid. I don’t think I stepped over the line,” Campbell said, apologizing to McKean if she interpreted his behavior as aggressive or intimidating. “[McKean] felt my asking put her in a tough position, but I didn’t ask her to do anything she couldn’t do.”
McKean said that Campbell never requested anything of her that he was not entitled to, and that she never felt as though his behavior towards her was a personal attack. However; McKean clearly stated that Campbell’s demeanor towards her was aggressive and intimidating, as witnessed and verified by other members of town staff.
“I’m a trial attorney by trade. I have dealt with people whose sole purpose was to intimidate me,” McKean said.
McKean told the board the issue must be faced “head on.”
“I was prepared to stand here and say, ‘let’s take a wait and see approach to this. I cannot believe [Campbell] can stand there and recall the same interaction and say he has no idea what he did wrong,” she said. “A wait and see approach is not adequate. I think this is something you should take up with your council.”
The board voted 4-0-1, with Campbell abstaining, to bring in the county attorney or another external party to investigate the concerns and allegations detailed in McKean’s memo.
“If employees are going to file grievances, I’m not particularly interested in waiting to see when that will happen,” Selectman Michael Lyons said. “To have three employees who might file grievances, that’s pretty damning stuff. I’m pretty ticked, and I’m pretty motivated to get someone from outside of this town to take a look at this.”