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Hawley Board of Selectmen at impasse

HAWLEY — Dysfunction in town government was definitely on display this week.

After criticizing selectmen’s Chairman Philip Keenan and the way town business is conducted, the town’s only other selectman walked out of their meeting, slamming the door and stunning Keenan and other residents present.

“At this time, there is no point in having a selectmen’s meeting other than to sign warrants and address any emergency actions needed to keep the town running,” Tedd White said, in a four-page statement that was handed out, and which he read before leaving. “I am doing what is vital to keep the town running... Anything that is not vital to running the town should wait until a new selectman is elected, so the citizens will receive proper representation,” he said.

On Dec. 18, with the very ill third Selectman Richard Desmarais joining the meeting via speaker phone, the board voted 2 to 1 (with Keenan opposed) to reorganize the Board of Selectmen based on a calendar year, instead of by fiscal year.

Desmarais died on Dec. 24, and when the board met on Jan. 1, the two members disagreed on whether Keenan should remain as chairman or whether the two should share that position.

White said a Jan. 1 agenda item to “reorganize the board” had been changed to “respond to vote for reorganization.”

He brought this up as an example of how “meeting agendas are being manipulated to generate a desired outcome.”

“You can see that there was no intention to honor the vote of the Selectboard and the vote has not been honored,” White said.

Throughout his statement, White said the meetings are not well-run, that the town administrator “is constantly asked for her opinion, and he charged that Keenan “either has not read, doesn’t understand or has no intention of following” the Selectmen’s Handbook or Robert’s Rules of Order.

He accused Keenan of cutting off other board members, and said that selectmen’s meeting minutes “have been repeatedly altered to favor Mr. Keenan’s position, to agree with the Administrative Assistant’s opinion, or to appease an activist 3 percent of the population.”

In a subsequent phone conversation, when asked about the “activist 3 percent of the population,” White said he was referring to a group of residents known as the “river watchers,” who had opposed the Tropical Storm Irene emergency repairs to the Chickley River that have resulted in a costly river restoration plan between the town, the contractor and the Department of Environmental Protection.

“I was elected to represent the residents and taxpayers, so obviously, I can’t go along with this situation,” said White.

White said he has been advised not to sign the meeting minutes, “because the minutes have been a biased account of the meetings.”

When asked if he plans to boycott selectmen’s meetings before the March 12 special election for a third board member, White initially did not have an answer. When asked later, he said, “We’ll see how it goes.”

White said he wants to sign bill payments and do what is needed to keep the town running.

Just before Tuesday’s meeting was effectively adjourned because of White’s departure, residents gave Keenan a letter of support, signed by 105 residents. The letter said they recognized him as the duly elected chairman and offered their support “as you continue to serve the town.”

Afterward, White tried to bring up an outstanding bill, and was told he was “out of order” by Keenan, because of other agenda items. White left after that.

Although the selectmen’s meeting ended, residents stayed on to talk with Keenan.

Keenan said he had checked with the Attorney General’s Office on his standing as selectmen’s chairman. He said he was told that, with the death of one board member, he is the legitimate chairman until another vote can be taken.

On Wednesday, Keenan was asked what he will do if White doesn’t participate in selectmen’s meetings.

“What can I do?” he replied.

Besides signing warrants to pay bills, boards of selectmen generally begin the town budget process in January, meeting with town departments and discussing their budget requests. Also, one agenda item not completed this week was for the board to review and accept executive session minutes, which could include some of the discussions regarding the Chickley River settlement. Such documents cannot be made public until they are authorized by selectmen.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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