By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — After the town’s $3,000 payment and letter of apology to the producer of a controversial video about a proposed sewer system, will the video ever see the light of day?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
Town Manager Mark Haddad said the money spent on the video — production of which was interrupted when selectmen began bickering about how the film project came about — won’t be wasted. Bob Coleman, program director of the Groton Channel, and the town’s Cable Department will take over the unfinished video from producer David Melpignano, Haddad said.
“It is still our intention to show it both before and at Town Meeting,” Haddad said in an email to The Sun about the video, which is intended to show all viewpoints about the proposed sewer system for the Four Corners business district.
That’s not how the Cable Advisory Committee understood it, as of early Tuesday afternoon. Committee member Jane Bouvier said she believed Melpignano, who serves as chairman of the Cable Advisory Committee, would volunteer to help Coleman and the Cable Department produce their own video from scratch for no cost because the tone of Melpignano’s work wouldn’t match with that of an addition by Coleman or others.
“The whole point was one wasn’t going to look good with the other,” Bouvier said.
Bouvier later contacted Coleman, who told her he will have access to Melpignano’s video and finish it.
“There you have it,” Selectman Stuart Schulman said of communication gaps that apparently continue amid the escalating infighting among town leaders.
Schulman said he, for one, had thought the film project had been stalled for now. When asked by The Sun what will happen to the video earlier, Schulman responded: “That’s a good question.”
In the meantime, selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen said he had been informed about Melpignano turning over raw footage to the Cable Department.
Controversy erupted when Degen and Selectman Jack Petropoulos learned that Haddad had contracted out a $6,500 video job upon Selectman Anna Eliot’s suggestion without consulting the rest of the board. Eliot had already asked Melpignano to take on the production before approaching Haddad with the idea to produce such a film, according to the town manager.
Haddad said he did not feel there was any conflict of interest or an appearance of it in hiring Melpignano, the chairman of the Cable Advisory Committee, for the job because he filed the necessary disclosure paperwork after contacting the Ethics Commission. But Cable Advisory Committee members were concerned about it when told of the project after the fact, according to Bouvier.
Selectmen agreed to pay $3,000 to Melpignano, thinking that would be the entire cost of the production, Degen said. It turned out to be for the work Melpignano had completed thus far; Haddad then asked the Cable Advisory Committee to pay the rest, $3,500, from the franchise fee it receives from Charter Communications and Verizon. But the Cable Committee unanimously rejected the request at its March 7 meeting, Bouvier said.
Last Monday night, selectmen issued a letter of apology to Melpignano for having been dragged through the controversy. The Sun has filed a request with the town to release a copy of the letter under the state Open Records Law.
Schulman said the town could have handled the “whole thing” better, including the concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“We botched it,” Schulman said.
But, Schulman said he wants to focus on the town budget and other important issues coming up at Town Meeting for now.
“I want to set priorities in my own head,” Schulman said.
Melpignano could not be reached for comment.