Tensions high after possible Municipal Offices break-in

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By Jon Bishop

MediaNews

SHIRLEY — Over the weekend, Shirley Town Hall suffered what appears to be a break-in, according to a source.

When asked about it, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said she received a call Saturday from Selectman David Swain, who told her he saw a paper clip in the door to the selectmen’s office. The door stop was also moved.

“He immediately called the police. An officer came over. Took some pictures,” she said.

Garvin said there is a key-card system in the building, and it shows who swipes in and who doesn’t.

When she came into work Monday, she called the custodian, who was in the building until about 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The custodian said she didn’t notice anyone in the office.

“There were two other people in the building — the town clerk and the collector,” she said. “They didn’t see anybody in the building.”

Because there was no record of someone swiping in and out, Garvin said she suspects the person could have entered using a hard key. She said keys to the building were last replaced in 2010, so “a lot of people could have a key.”

She also said she believes the paper clip was left there on purpose, as if to leave everyone unsettled.

“Nothing was taken. It was just kind of a little disheveled,” she said, adding that because a selectman came in and noticed it tells her someone must have come into the office.

Garvin said she wondered if the alleged break-in was related to what she described as “a lot of animosity toward the selectmen.”

“It feels very retaliatory toward the selectmen right now, in terms of what people are doing,” she said. “So the break-in made it feel like that was part of it.”

She said many in town have taken issue with moves to balance the budget, including closing Town Hall on Friday. Also, she said Town Meeting twice voted down a 2 percent salary increase, a raise that was in her contract. She said she asked the selectmen to change the contribution to her benefits, and people in town accused the selectmen of attempting to get around Town Meeting.

She said she’s heard there is a petition going around that asks residents if the town should add a recall bylaw.

“It’s a very negative atmosphere around the selectmen right now,” she said.

Garvin said all they’re trying to do is balance the budget, especially because Shirley is looking at a projected deficit of $958,000 in fiscal 2017.

“That’s a huge whole to fill,” she said.

She said she believes there is a contingent of people who don’t want to see change in the town.

“This has been a town that has been doing the same thing for a lot of years,” she said, adding that “the selectmen want to make some basic changes to improve the town.”

She said the break-in was a tipping point.

“I’m coming in; I’m doing my job,” she said.

“The vindictiveness to turn your sights on me — it’s cutthroat,” she added. “I seem to have rattled the cages of the core group, the people who don’t want to change.”

Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Prescott said they “don’t really know too much about it, other than some of the particulars.”

“The police have investigated it,” he said.

Prescott said they will be changing the locks of the building.

“We’ve pulled in a couple of those hard keys,” he said. “We’re tightening up who has them.”

He wouldn’t say whether the break-in was the direct result of attempts to balance the budget, but he said “there is a heightened state of hysteria around here, to say the least.”

He said Shirley is operating with a structural deficit, and they’ve “been doing it for a long time.”

But now one-time moneys are drying up.

“That is what has been balancing this budget in this town for a long time,” he said. “The train track’s running out.”

He said “it’s not a pleasant situation right now,” noting that “a lot of people are taking these things personally.”

“We’re trying to do the right thing for everybody,” he said. “We have some differences of opinion here about that.”

Swain, when asked about the alleged break-in, confirmed that he found a paper-clip left in the door and a moved door stop and that he called the police.

Beyond that, he didn’t have any speculation, he said.