NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 30, 2013

Public denied access to legal opinion on fire engineers

West Newbury selectmen divided on decision

WEST NEWBURY— A majority of the Board of Selectmen has decided to keep a legal opinion related to the Board of Fire Engineers a secret from the public for the time being.

Chairman Bert Knowles Jr. declined a request from the press on Monday for access to a memo issued by town counsel Michael McCarron regarding whether the way fire engineers choose a fire chief is in conflict with state ethics laws.

All three selectmen acknowledged receipt of the memo and the board spent nearly 15 minutes discussing it. But although Selectman Glenn Kemper was willing to turn a copy over to the press immediately, his two colleagues chose instead to keep it private. Yesterday, The Daily News made a formal public documents request for the memo.

Knowles said he was waiting for answers to some follow-up questions he posed after the initial opinion was delivered. After the meeting Anderson stressed that he would vote to make the document public once those answers were in. But no one — not even McCarron — could say whether that would happen prior to next Monday’s Special Town Meeting.

According to comments made by both Kemper and McCarron on Monday, the legal opinion found there was no conflict of interest in either the way fire engineers were appointed or the way they chose a fire chief. Selectmen appoint the members of the fire board each April and once selected, the engineers choose a chief from among themselves.

At a previous meeting Anderson worried that having engineers choose from among themselves to fill a compensated position was a conflict of interest. He proposed asking Town Meeting voters to adopt a section of state statute, known as The Strong Chief’s Law, that would dissolve the fire board and install a fire chief as the department’s sole leader. Knowles agreed, but Kemper was strongly opposed.

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