WEST NEWBURY — Despite pressure from five former colleagues to resign, Selectman Glenn Kemper said Monday he has met his financial obligations to the town and has no plans to step down.
In a statement read at the end of the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, Kemper said he was approached last week "by a representative of some former selectmen. This person told me that if I did not resign at tonight’s meeting, they would publish a letter in the Newburyport News calling for my resignation.
"I want to assure all of my supporters in the West Newbury community that I have no plans to resign. I understand after watching our last meeting how people could feel I was not sincere or understand how it affected the people and the town. ... I am sorry. Sorry is empty if I don’t tell what I am sorry for. Sorry it happened. Sorry it lasted as long as it did. Sorry how it affected the town and the people here," he said.
At a meeting July 22, board Chairman David Archibald unexpectedly revealed that financial problems with Kemper’s catering business five years ago caused him to fall behind by more than $27,000 on insurance premiums he owed the town.
Kemper, who filed for personal bankruptcy in March 2015, has since resolved the matter. In April, he paid two cashier's checks: $13,793.30 in back premiums owed and $13,646 in charges accrued since his bankruptcy. The total was what he owed the town but it was more than what he was legally required to pay under bankruptcy laws.
Archibald said he and his colleagues have discussed the issue in executive sessions for months.
Kemper said Monday the "experience has made me a better man and selectman. I wish it never happened and it won’t affect me going forward as a selectman — actually, it will make me work even harder.”
Kemper said he was told the former selectmen who were poised to write the letter were Joe Anderson, Dick Cushing, Bert Knowles, John McGrath and Ann O’Sullivan.
Under state law, municipal employees and elected officials who receive a stipend can enroll in their community's group health insurance plan, which Kemper did in January 2013.
His financial problems ensued shortly after that. Despite paying his premiums sporadically for years, he remained on the town’s plan until December 2016. Kemper’s colleagues were not made aware of his bankruptcy in time to file a claim with the bankruptcy court.
When reached Tuesday, Knowles said he “was aware of a movement” in support of calling on Kemper to resign and that he would need to review any letter before he would sign it. Knowles added that he felt Kemper’s problems did not present a good image of the town’s financial management.
Cushing said Tuesday that the former selectmen were still debating whether to send a letter to the editor. McGrath, who is known to have a close personal relationship with Kemper, said he sent Kemper a text asking him to “resign now” based on what he learned from Archibald’s announcement at the meeting July 22.
When asked if she was part of the initiative, O’Sullivan responded, “Yes, sadly. He’s a generous guy and has a big heart, so this was very difficult.”
But the fact that the debt was not addressed for a long time was a problem, she said.
Anderson, however, denied he was one of the five.
“If there is such a plan, I have not been party to it,” he said. “Sounds like you have some bad info from someone.”
In the aftermath of Archibald’s disclosure at the July meeting, a few residents also called for Kemper’s resignation on social media sites specific to West Newbury.
They stressed that Kemper had, in essence, received an unauthorized loan from taxpayers for a personal expense and they objected to the controversy being kept from the public for so long. Some felt he had an obligation to reveal his bankruptcy to voters and his outstanding obligation to the town before seeking re-election two years ago.
Lark Madden, who served as chair of the Investment Policy and Auditor Selection Committees, said, "I have serious and fact-based concerns about Mr. Kemper's decision-making regarding his yearslong personal debt to the town; about his management of the situation on behalf of the town and the inherent conflict between those two issues. I and many others have lost faith in his ability to be a trusted town leader. Glenn Kemper should step down.”
But much of the commentary on Facebook has been in support of Kemper, who was repeatedly praised for his generosity to the community and local charitable organizations.
“This all highlights the generosity of the Kempers," Richard Baker wrote in a Facebook post last week. "They were freely donating time and money to the town when they were not able to cover their own bills. I am even more grateful for the countless times the Kempers have donated food for town events after reading about their difficulties.”