By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — The infighting among town leaders continues to escalate.
Selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen, who recently scolded his colleagues for throwing verbal punches at each other during a public meeting, has launched his own offensive against a fellow selectman, urging her to resign.
Describing Selectman Anna Eliot as “one caustic underlying force” behind deteriorating relationships among board members, Degen called on her to immediately step down in his letter to the editor sent to local newspapers on Wednesday.
“Anna has become an impediment to both the functionality of the board and the town of Groton,” Degen wrote in his letter, which is filled with personal complaints against Eliot.
Eliot declined to comment. She would only say she will continue to focus on conducting town business.
Degen’s call for Eliot’s resignation comes on the heels of the board’s expressed interest in hiring a professional coach who could show them how to stop fighting about everything and remain civil. Degen said on Wednesday that the town has begun interviewing prospective coaches.
During the Feb. 23 meeting, Degen shouted at Selectman Jack Petropoulos and Town Manager Mark Haddad — who are often at odds with each other — to get along.
So, why can’t Degen get along with Eliot?
“Anna continues to push the button and continues to make accusations (against me that are false),” Degen said. “She is the one not getting along. You have the right to defend yourself, and I am exercising the right.”
Tension has been rising for months among various selectmen and Haddad over disagreements on various issues. At the Feb. 23 meeting, Haddad and Petropoulos got into an argument over Petropoulos not complying with Haddad’s request to provide a copy of his response to a resident’s email. Petropoulos refused to provide copies while acknowledging that the correspondence in question was public record. Haddad, on the other hand, continued to demand copies while Petropoulos explained what he had said to the resident in his emails.
Then on Monday night, Degen complained about how Eliot had initiated the $3,000 production of a video covering the issue of the proposed Four Corners sewer system without consulting other selectmen. Petropoulos said he had heard about the movie project some time ago and asked Degen if he knew anything about it. Petropoulos also told Degen that he did not want tax money spent on it, but felt OK about Haddad’s arrangement to have it paid for by the Cable Advisory Committee.
Degen said Eliot falsely accused him of “colluding” with Petropoulos. On Monday night, Degen said that Eliot had responded to his request for apology with a “lame” one via email.
And neither of them is leaving the board after the May 19 town election, as neither’s seat is up for grabs this year. Only Petropoulos’ seat is open, and he faces three challengers.
Degen said his problem with Eliot is nothing new.
“I have tolerated false accusations many, many times as uttered from her lips. I do have a feisty temper but have let these aspersions slide in the past,” Degen wrote in his letter to the editor. “She repeatedly fails to respect the Open Meeting Law, thus exposing our board to ridicule. She fails to respect the fact that taxpayer dollars should not be expended without a formal vote of the board. She fails to serve you the citizens of Groton.”
Petropoulos said he didn’t realize his simple question about the video was going to result in controversy.
But “I have many concerns on many dimensions on the call Josh made on Anna’s resignation. I don’t support it at all,” Petropoulos said.
Selectman Stuart Schulman said he believes hiring a professional communication coach would be a waste of money.
“I’m extremely disappointed to have read (Degen’s) letter,” Schulman said.
Petropoulos said bringing a professional may be helpful. The process of getting along starts with acceptance that there is a problem, Petropoulos said.
“We all have a role in the problem,” Petropoulos said.
Selectman Peter Cunningham declined to comment, saying he had not seen Degen’s letter when contacted.