GROTON — With a full agenda of regular business to attend to, the March 9 meeting of selectmen opened with an unrelated issue as chairman Joshua Degen read from an email he received from Mark Haddad.
The note expressed the town manager’s belief that the fix was in about his being dismissed from his job.
Haddad relayed his concern that the chairman had been leaking information to one Robert Flynn. Flynn has signed a citizens’ petition placing an article on the upcoming town meeting warrant whose purpose is to gauge public support for removal of Haddad from his job as town manager.
“Please consider this email as a request for a formal investigation as to why I am hearing about potential board action against me as an employee of the town from residents of the town,” stated Haddad in his email.
“Specifically, Mr. Robert Flynn, who has a citizens’ petition article on the warrant to direct the board not to renew my contract, sent a text message to a resident of the town stating ‘wait until Monday’s article comes out, someone is going to get fired and it isn’t going to be funny.’
“When I sent a text message to the chairman of the board of selectmen asking him to enlighten me, he did not respond, but sent a cryptic email saying he could not enlighten me and requested that town counsel be present at Monday’s meeting,” continued Haddad. “It appears he is discussing personnel matters with a resident who has submitted an article to end my career with the town of Groton.”
Haddad ended his message with a request that the board investigate the matter.
Originally intended only for selectmen Anna Eliot, Peter Cunningham, Jack Petropoulos and Stuart Schulman, Haddad copied Degen in the email “as a matter of courtesy.”
Haddad had suggested that the matter not be brought up at the March 9 meeting of the board, but deferred the wisdom of doing so to the board.
Degen, as chairman, did decide to bring the matter up under the announcements portion of the regular meeting, reading Haddad’s email in public before recusing himself from any debate on the grounds that the town manager’s comments concerned himself.
The issue was only short-circuited when Schulman objected, noting that the subject did not belong in that part of the meeting.
“This is not an announcement,” noted Schulman.
The town’s legal counsel, Brian Maser, who had been on hand for earlier consultation on other matters, agreed, saying that Haddad’s complaint needed more investigation before it could be properly addressed.
Maser suggested that Haddad place his complaint in writing instead of the more informal email format.
At that point, it seemed, the subject was closed, until later in the meeting when Degen interrupted Haddad’s Power Point presentation dealing with a proposed sewer system for the Four Corners neighborhood.
Why did you have a police officer in attendance at this meeting? Degen demanded of Haddad.
“For my protection,” replied the town manager without further explanation.
Clearly angry, Degen then asked how much having the police officer present cost the taxpayers?
“This is ridiculous!” declared Degen, clearly still upset over the earlier issue involving Haddad’s complaints over the security of his job.
“This is out of order and we should continue with the regular meeting,” interposed Eliot.
Haddad then explained how much it would cost to have the officer in the room. After factoring in his regular pay and leaving only the few hours he had been present, the town manager said that time and half expenses would come to $200.
With that, the subject subsided for the rest of the meeting.
Degen said that he noticed the police officer sitting in the back of the room and texted Chief Donald Palma during the meeting to ask why he was there. Palma texted back that the officer had been requested by Haddad.
When asked later from whom he felt he needed to be protected, Haddad said only that he felt the need for personal protection.
“I personally think the town manager had the policeman in the back of the room to try and deflect blame from himself and toss it squarely in my face,” concluded Degen. “It’s just amazing when someone is forced to face their own shortcomings that they tend to deflect attention away from themselves and cast it on others.”