, Newburyport, MA

October 9, 2013

Apologies sought, but not given in Salisbury dispute

Town manager upset at group's email link to article full of 'falsehoods'


---- — SALISBURY — Town Manager Neil Harrington is offering no apologies after publicly blasting the Salisbury Beach Citizens for Change for sending out an email link to a story he claims was full of lies.

At Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, SBCC President Tom Saab requested an apology from Harrington as well as the Board of Selectmen for allowing Harrington to criticize his organization at the Sept. 23 board meeting for sending out a link to an article Harrington claims slandered the town and its officials.

In September, Harrington took on an article, published in the Lawrence-based Valley Patriot, and its author for not calling the town before circulating a story carrying what he said were false claims and accusations made by Joyce and Gracemarie Tomaselli. The story related to the sisters’ nearly 20-year legal battle over sewer-related betterment fee issues for their North End Boulevard properties.

Part of that battle culminated in August when Salisbury won a Land Court suit to take the properties for non-payment of more than $250,000 in taxes and fees, although that taking is on hold since Gracemarie Tomaselli filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 30.

In his statement, Harrington also called upon the Salisbury Beach Citizens for Change to repudiate the article sent to its membership, or for Salisbury citizens to disassociate themselves with the organization if it didn’t.

“The people of Salisbury need to know that their local government will not be intimidated by this ongoing campaign of lies by the Tomasellis and their allies,” Harrington said in September, “but will continue to fight for the hard-working taxpayers of this town against the efforts of a small group of self-interested zealots who are trying to mislead them.”

At Monday’s meeting Saab called Harrington to task for reading the statement in public without calling him first to find out if the SBCC sided with the Tomasellis’ claims. Saab considered the action “unethical,” he said. But, Saab added, the SBCC is a forgiving organization and forgives Harrington and the Board of Selectmen for their actions.

Saab said all the organization did was email a link to the story to about 300 to 400 people, which didn’t mean it or he supported the Tomasellis’ position.

“As far as the sisters go, they should have paid their taxes and betterment charges to start with, and if they had a problem, then file their suit,” said Saab, who added he’s paid more than $40,000 in sewer betterment charges.

Saab said the concerns brought forward in the article weren’t a matter for the SBCC. The SBCC’s issue is a belief that the way the town bills for sewer usage is illegal, and it’s working to prove that to town officials, he said.

Saab’s reasoning didn’t impress Harrington enough for him to say he was sorry. Saab should have contacted the town to find out if the allegations made in the article were true before sending it out to hundreds of its members, Harrington said.

“You’re not going to get an apology from me for suggesting that the people in town should not look kindly upon an organization that (distributes) an article replete with inaccuracies and falsehoods about our town,” Harrington told Saab. “My job is to defend the town and stand up for what’s right and protect the town’s interests.”

Selectman Freeman Condon also stood up for Harrington, saying sending out the link to so many people implied the SBCC supported the Tomasellis comments. Calling the sister’s claims in the story “absurdly false,” Condon said the town had to take a firm position.

“I believe (Harrington’s) response was measured and moderate and I’m in complete agreement with the way he handled it,” Condon said. “

Selectman Fred Knowles concurred with Condon.