NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 26, 2013

Salisbury moves to curb rancor

Selectmen hope to bring more professional attitude to town boards

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY — Selectmen’s efforts to remove a Liquor Licensing Commission member from office for what they believe was unprofessional behavior is sending a message — selectmen want to see shouting and rancor by town boards and officials brought under control.

On July 22, Selectmen Donald Beaulieu, Freeman Condon and Henry Richenburg voted to send a notice to Liquor Licensing Commissioner Gil Mederios that they intend to remove him from office because of what they said was his disrespectful comments at their July 1 selectmen’s meeting.

According to the motion, Mederios acted in a manner unbecoming to his appointed office when he verbally berated the three selectmen for voting against working with a Maryland company wanting to bring a slot machine casino to town. The punitive action was in accordance to authority given selectmen under Section 7-8 of Salisbury’s Home Rule Charter.

Selectmen Ed Hunt and Fred Knowles voted against the attempt to remove Mederios. The two selectmen didn’t condone Mederios’ behavior at the July 1 meeting, but they felt his actions didn’t rise to the level of removal. Mederios has done an excellent job while performing his duties as Liquor Licensing commissioner, Hunt and Knowles said. Since his actions before the Board of Selectmen on July 1 wasn’t directly related to his duties as commissioner, they didn’t think it appropriate to remove him from office.

Condon thought differently, finding Mederios’ behavior on July 1 “aggressive and in poor taste” and insulting to the Board of Selectmen as a whole.

But Mederios isn’t the only town official or employee whose behavior has been called into question in recent months. The selectmen’s move against Mederios could be seen as a message that all who represent the town need to be held to a higher standard. They all need to keep civil tongues in their heads.

“We shouldn’t have to be sending that message, but unfortunately in Salisbury lately we may have to,” Beaulieu said.

“It goes without saying all town officials should conduct themselves in a moral and rational manner,” Condon said. “I believe every situation has to be taken separately.”

A few weeks ago, the building inspector was accused of poor behavior and bad language by a Salisbury police officer after they disagreed over an issue. In a June workshop, Board of Health members and the town’s health agent ended up yelling at each other.

Harbor Commission meetings have often dissolved into verbal combat over differing opinions between commissioners and the harbormaster.

After a fractious Board of Health workshop, Salisbury health agent Jack Morris regretted his outburst and sent letters of apology to the board members.

Things haven’t worked as well for the Harbor Commission. Selectmen had hoped to reconcile the problems with the members; their hostile sessions are broadcast live and don’t set the best example of how town government should run. But the attempt by selectmen to help the Harbor Commission end their internal feuding failed. As a result, selectmen recently table until fall the question of reappointing some commissioners whose terms have expired.

“I think all public officials need to conduct themselves in a professional manner,” Richenburg said.

A Zoning Board of Appeals official was called on the carpet not long ago by Hunt, who referred to what could he considered the use of insulting language. Hunt pointed out that during a meeting a ZBA member referred to a business owner’s sign as “ugly.” That’s inappropriate, Hunt said, and something that could have been handled with more decorum. Being a public official or employee doesn’t give license to being rude or insulting when dealing with those they oversee, he believes.

“People need to pay more attention to how they conduct themselves,” Hunt said. “I know even I do at times. Everyone needs to be professional at meetings.”

Beaulieu said Americans have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes, especially when it comes to public employees and officials, elected or appointed. Elected officials shouldn’t feel threatened for acting in what they believe is in the best interest of the town.

“We all have the right to disagree with each other, and we have the right to try and sway another person’s opinion when we disagree,” Beaulieu said. “But we have to do that in a way that’s respectful.”

“I’m surprised we even have to have this conversation,” Condon said.