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Hawley board moves forward

HAWLEY — In their first meeting since Selectman Tedd White resigned, remaining board members Philip Keenan and John Sears resolved some issues that have stymied town government since the death of Selectman Richard Desmarais in December.

After voting to accept the March resignations of White, Town Clerk Lisa Turner and Moderator Cynthia Stetson, the board met in executive session, “to hear complaints brought against a public officer, staff member or individual,” in accordance with state Open Meeting Law.

They returned to open session a half-hour later, exonerating Administrative Assistant Virginia Gabert, who had come under fire from White in open public meetings and in a written statement by White that town officials believe could have been grounds for a libel lawsuit against the town.

At the March 26 meeting, Sears asked White to either publicly retract his remarks about Gabert or bring them to an executive session, with the town’s lawyer Donna MacNicol present. White agreed to the executive session, but he resigned on March 28.

Among White’s complaints was that Gabert’s written meeting minutes were inaccurate. In a written statement distributed at a January selectmen’s meeting, White said, “the votes and directives of the board are not being honored,” and that board Chairman Keenan and Gabert “have sought to undo, usurp and manipulate the votes and directives of the selectboard.” He accused them of “spending hours working to undo the votes of the selectboard” and of altering the selectboard’s meeting minutes.

Gabert, who has been the town’s administrator for 21 years, denied the accusations.

After Tuesday night’s executive session, selectmen returned to open meeting, read a statement from Gabert, and their own statement.

“We find no basis for these accusations,” said the board’s statement “We believe Virginia has been a hard-working, devoted and effective administrative assistant. ... Her service during the difficult negotiations ... that led to the Chickley River settlement was extraordinary and saved the town from financial disaster.”

“We regret that Tedd White chose to make public accusations against Virginia while he served as selectman, and we apologize to her for any pain or embarrassment it caused.”

In her response, Gabert said she has never “altered or tampered” minutes that have been approved by the board, that she had never disregarded a vote by selectmen or violated the State Ethics or Open Meeting laws.

“Such public allegations have the potential to mar my professional reputation,” she wrote. “And, if any further statements are made by Mr. White, my attorney will respond on my behalf.”

Coming election

The board began discussing annual town meeting warrant items and when to schedule a special town election, to elect residents to serve the unexpired terms of White, Turner, and former Hawlemont School Committee member Housain Hamdan.

Because it’s too late to add those positions to the April 30 annual election warrant, the board voted to hold the special election on June 25, when the state election for U.S. senator is to be held.

The board also voted to pay for a comprehensive audit when this fiscal year ends in June, and to add a town meeting article requiring the town to have an audit at least every three years.

Furthermore, they voted to have Gabert record future selectmen’s meetings.

After White complained about inaccurate selectmen’s meeting minutes, the board decided to make audio recordings of each meeting, as a way to resolve disputes. But White wanted another town official, the town clerk, to attend to record the board’s meetings and to keep those recordings locked up.

Keenan said selectmen don’t have any legal authority to put extraneous duties on the town clerk and would have to pay for her time to come in evenings for this added responsibility.

“That would be an expensive button-pusher,” remarked Keenan. “So let’s be done with the who-pushes-the-button issue.”

Gabert is to record the meetings and give it to the town clerk, who keeps town records.

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

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