The Salem Municipal Budget Committee began their review of the 2013 town budget Wednesday with an at times heated discussion centering around whether or not Russ Frydryck should continue as chairman.
The board eventually voted 6-1-2 to keep Frydryck in the role. The one member who voted in favor of changing the chairman was Board of Selectmen representative Stephen Campbell.
Frydryck said there had previously been "private criticism" of his handling of the committee by Campbell, who himself is a former longtime committee member.
Frydryck read directly from an e-mail from Campbell in which the selectman wrote: "You are not a chairman, you obviously treat members and requests differently based on whether you agree with the request."
Frydryck said that as the committee gets ready to prepare the town budget, he wouldn't want to serve as chairman if members didn't believe he was fair.
"If this committee would like to have me step down and replace me, I will leave that open to the floor right now," he said.
At the heart of this discussion was a recent request by new committee member Dane Hoover, who asked for some information from the Salem School District that was deemed to be not monetary in nature and therefore was not provided.
Some of that information involved enrollment history. The recent school enrollment study was not provided to the committee at their last meeting.
Campbell was upset that Frydryck did not press School Board representative Pam Berry to make that information available.
"In the old days, every request was treated as if it came from the entire board," Campbell said. "It seems now that if the majority doesn't want the information, there's no big deal about getting it and the minority is not treated with the respect when they feel they need information."
Campbell called the majority of the committee "more liberal" now and felt the majority may not be aware they are doing it when they don't back up a minority request.
Hoover, for his part, said he didn't want to see Frydryck leave the chairman's seat, but expressed his disappointment that Frydryck didn't back up his request.
"I would like you to at least recognize the fact that plenty of the stuff I requested...was not only very reasonable but easy enough to obtain," Hoover said. "I was provided zero and I didn't feel like you backed me up on that."
Berry said the enrollment study was put on the district's website the very next morning after the committee's last meeting for all to see.
"I don't know how much quicker you can get it," Berry said. "The staff doesn't work overnight to put it on the website."
Berry also said she felt like Hoover had "patronized" her at a previous meeting by saying if it was too much work he'd find it himself.
"Now you're signing a different song tonight," Berry said. "Either you want it or you don't want it."
"You're emotionally taking in something here that there isn't," Hoover said to Berry. "I asked for simple information. I didn't ask to be attacked."
Hoover said he was able to find some of the information on his own.
"I'll back anybody up that needs specific questions that need to be answered," committee secretary Barry Pietrantonio said. "But if the information is available and you can find it, that's part of the board's job."
In addition, committee vice chairman Paul Huard expressed that Campbell had been too critical of the committee in some of his public statements, including instances where Campbell called this committee "the least inquisitive I've ever seen," that the committee took the summer off and that they "like to spend money."
"Personally, when I look at all the work I put into this board, I find it extremely insulting," Huard said. "It's all on tape...I'm very disappointed. Russ has bent over backwards to let people talk at length on the same subject over and over again. I find this ridiculous."
Huard said the committee met in June and August and said he was "tired" of the way Campbell was criticizing them.
The committee's 6-1-2 vote to keep Frydryck as chairman included Campbell voting in the minority with Frydryck and Patrick McDougall abstaining.
After that, the committee conducted their review of a number of town departments Wednesday, including the Town Clerk, Tax Collector, Assessing, Information Technology, Human Resources and Community Development among others.
Thursday night the committee went over the Police and Fire budgets as well as capital projects.
They will continue their review next Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.