Fay targets Conley
By Mary E. Arata
AYER — The scheduling of an off-cycle Board of Selectmen’s meeting prompted fireworks and name-calling by the board’s chairman.
Last Wednesday, June 27, Chairman Jim Fay called a special meeting of the board to convene at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 29. The singular issue was an emergency request by Calvin Moore, owner of the Spaulding Block at 25 Main St.
The building has been on the market for months. Moore needed the board’s authorization to subordinate agreements with the town so Moore could convey the property to a waiting buyer.
Of the five selectmen, Fay and Selectman Frank Maxant are retired. The other three hold down full-time employment.
The task of rounding up at least three selectmen to make a legal quorum was delegated, as it usually is, to Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. Pontbriand emailed board members at 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, asking them to RSVP.
“Please confirm your attendance with Janet (selectmen secretary Janet Lewis) as a quorum is needed,” wrote Pontbriand.
Selectman Gary Luca, Ayer’s postmaster, did not attend the 2 p.m. meeting. Maxant had earlier indicated he had a prior engagement.
Privately employed Selectman Pauline Conley said she told Pontbriand via email that she could not meet at 2 p.m., but could meet at 5:15 p.m. after the end of her workday.
It was not immediately clear if Pontbriand informed Fay of Conley’s work conflict. Nashoba Publishing attempted to contact Pontbriand to clarify what role he played in the snafu and has not connected to discuss the matter further.
Conley and self-employed Selectman Christopher Hillman were already scheduled to meet Friday at noon for contract negotiations with the patrolmen’s union. Those talks stretched one and a half hours.
But it was Conley’s counter-offer to meet at 5:15 p.m. that sparked Fay’s anger in emails Conley shared with Nashoba Publishing.
Moore allegedly became angry at Lewis on Monday when seeking a special meeting of the selectmen. Pontbriand overheard Moore making similar demands on Wednesday and intervened.
Who called the meeting of the board is unclear; however, traditionally any board member can put in a request.
Conley said she was contacted by Hillman minutes before 2 p.m. on Friday and asked to return to Town Hall to help make a quorum. Conley responded that she was unable to, having already returned to work.
At some point after 2 p.m., the meeting convened with Fay, Maxant and Hillman in attendance.
At 3:20 p.m, Fay sent out an email to the membership addressed primarily to Maxant and Hillman. “A special thank you for making quorum so we could conduct the important business of the people of Ayer,” wrote Fay. “I understand Pauline left unexpectedly at 1:40 p.m. today and left us potentially without a quorum.”
“So on behalf of those involved, thank you for taking your responsibilities seriously and making quorum,” wrote Fay. “The subject matter was time sensitive and needed to be processed.”
At 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Conley responded to Fay. “As Chris, Robert, Chief Murray, several patrol officers and Janet all know, I was at contract negotiations today from noon until approximately 1:20 p.m. Friday.”
“I did not leave ‘unexpectedly’ as you state,” wrote Conley. “I went back to work where I am required to be each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I do not enjoy the luxury of the self- or nonemployed to come and go as I please during the day.”
She restated that she’d advised Pontbriand she’d be available at 5:15 p.m. but “could not make 2.”
“I am insulted that you presume those of us who are unable to accommodate your free time and leave our jobs to attend a midday meeting are not serious about our responsibilities,” wrote Conley. “Would you rather we lie to our employers only to attend a public meeting that could easily be reported to our managers resulting in our discipline or worse?”
Conley noted that building had been listed for sale for months. “The sale of this property was not as ‘time sensitive’ as you imply,” said Conley. “It has been in the works for well over a month, according to notices in the windows on Main Street. The town should have been notified long before last Monday of the need for the town to take action on loan documents.
“Furthermore and far more importantly, there is NO excuse for the seller’s belligerent attitude toward Janet Monday and again Wednesday — both of which were the talk of the building and the second of which was witnessed and intervened in by Robert,” wrote Conley. “Friday’s late-called meeting essentially rewarded the seller’s disrespectful behavior and that is as distasteful to me as your continued disregard for other members of this board.
“I don’t see how any of that translates into the ‘important business of the people of Ayer,'” closed Conley.
Shortly after noon, Fay fired back. “I did not set the time. Robert did, based on what was understood to be time sensitive material and I agreed. Robert also told me you said you would attend and then you changed your mind on Friday at 1:20.”
“Robert confirmed as did Janet the quorum would be you, me and Chris,” said Fay. “Frank said he had a conflict and I was told by Janet it would be you, me and Chris at 2 p.m.”
“I do not believe you when you say you had an employment conflict,” charged Fay. “Rather I believe you did this to stick it to Calvin.”
At the end of 2011, Conley and Moore tangled over the tax status of Moore’s properties in order for Moore to obtain a liquor license for Billard’s Café. The Spaulding Building, the subject of Friday’s meeting, was the subject of a taking for nonpayment of taxes, which was recorded on June 29, 2011. A certificate of redemption was filed thereafter on Feb. 29, 2012.
Fay closed with, “I believe you are (an) insult to all selectmen who ever served.”
“You are making accusations again and this time impugning the word and reputation of the town administrator and calling me a liar, both of which are libelous statements,” answered Conley three hours later. “I certainly can prove where I was on Friday — not that I should have to do so — and that I emailed Robert on Wednesday that I could not make a 2 p.m. meeting.
“I never changed my mind so again you’re calling me a liar,” wrote Conley. “And lastly, you are now name-calling again — this time I am a disgrace, last time I was a jerk, before that I’ve actually forgotten.
“This insanity has to stop!” concluded Conley.
“Pauline, it all stops here,” answered Fay at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 1. “Robert and Janet told me you agreed to be in attendance. No insanity here.”
Thirteen minutes later, Fay added more to the email, and resent it while copying Pontbriand. “I am not calling you a liar, I simply do not believe you.
“I was told you agreed to attend and then changed your mind,” wrote Fay. “As to the name-calling, I am not name-calling. I simply state my opinion. You have earned my disrespect.
“Anything further can (be) discussed by the board on how to improve communications among us,” wrote Fay. “Robert, please agenda a discussion on an HR workshop to resolve these issues. Any further discussion by me on this subject will be done at the meeting.”
In open session on June 29, the selectmen, consisting of Fay, Hillman and after cajoling, Maxant, approved the subordination for Moore.
Selectmen meet Monday, July 9 to discuss the board’s formal response to an Open Meeting Law complaint lodged against the board with the Attorney General’s Office by Maxant.