TOWNSEND -- A regularly scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting had to be canceled Tuesday night because too many residents showed up to voice concerns -- many about the town's relationship with its police department -- in a heated and contentious scene.
The meeting, which was set to discuss a variety of budgetary items, never truly got underway as residents began criticizing town officials and quickly demanded proceedings be moved to the larger Great Hall.
"We want to be heard," said resident Joe Shank. "We have the right to be heard. If we can't be accommodated here... just pick this up and move this meeting."
Town officials declined to do so, however, and instead asked attendees who could not find seats to move to the Great Hall on their own because the room was set up for overflow with a live television feed.
The selectmen's chambers, where Tuesday's meeting took place, has a capacity of 49 people, but the crowds exceeded that limit. After about 25 minutes, Selectmen Chairwoman Carolyn Smart announced that the meeting was officially canceled because business could not proceed.
A number of residents, many of whom had been present at a Saturday rally in support of on-leave Police Chief Robert Eaton and the department, criticized town officials, and a few shouted obscenities.
Smart remained after fellow Selectmen Cindy King and Gordon Clark left in an attempt to answer residents' questions related to the town's investigation of police employees and the decision to place Eaton on paid administrative leave.
Most of the crowd decided to leave after several minutes of speaking with Smart.
Three state police officers were on hand at Tuesday's meeting. Trooper Joseph Hall entered the chambers and said he was there "to observe" before recommending that residents to use the overflow room so business could proceed.
On Saturday evening, a resident emailed the Board of Selectmen requesting the meeting be held in the Great Hall, a much larger room in town hall that is often used for Town Meetings, to accommodate the anticipated crowds.
Town officials said the meeting could not move to the Great Hall because the audio equipment was not easily transferred and because the agenda posted had listed the selectmen's chambers as the location.
"The board meet in this room," Town Administrator Jim Kreidler told the audience. "This is a regular Board of Selectmen meeting for which an agenda has been posted. There are no matters for which you would be speaking this evening. If you want to watch the meeting, you're allowed by law to be here to watch it."
The state Open Meeting Law requires all public meetings to be posted 48 hours ahead of time excluding weekends, so the agenda for Tuesday's meeting had to be posted Friday. However, the text of the law does not specifically indicate whether switching rooms within the same building is allowed or forbidden.
Tuesday's meeting was scheduled to discuss the fiscal year 2018 budget and other regular business, but most attendees raised concerns over the Police Department. In December, selectmen announced that town counsel was investigating four police employees for allegedly conducting unlawful background checks. Sgt. Randy Girard, one of the four, resigned during the investigation.
Eaton took to the department's Facebook page on Friday to criticize the investigation as "a calculated and orchestrated maneuver to disparage and dismantle the entire department." He wrote that his own investigation and a report from the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services found no wrongdoing.
Town officials responded with a press release alleging that Eaton disregarded instructions to halt his own investigation and had misrepresented the DCJIS report. Eaton was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of town counsel's investigation, and he is scheduled to be interviewed by town counsel Wednesday.
On Monday afternoon, residents submitted three petitions with the town clerk calling for a Special Town Meeting seeking Girard's reinstatement and Kreidler's termination.
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