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Select Board Authorizes Investigation of Town Manager

Editors Note: Due to a production error, Jenifer Evans' complaint letter was truncated in the printed version of the story below. The full version of the complaint letter appears here in the online posting of the story. Our sincere apologies to Jenifer Evans.

 

 

 

by Connie Sartini

 

   An Open Meeting Law (OML) violation complaint was filed by Selectman Josh Degen on Dec. 20, 2018 with the Attorney General’s Office against Fire Department Task Force member Jenifer Evans. The complaint was in regards to her distribution of an email dated Dec 17, 2018 to all members of the Task Force expressing her thoughts as the task force prepared its recommendation and final report. Even though no one on the Task Force responded, it allegedly constitutes deliberation and it is still considered an Open Meeting Law Violation.

   At the Fire Department Task Force Meeting on Jan 7, 2019, the committee discussed the OML violation and Evans acknowledged that she sent the email, adding that she could, “quote the Open Meeting Law,” adding that it was a “mistake.”

   However, Evans stated that Town Manager Mark Haddad was on the distribution of this email list and challenged him, saying that he should have said something to the committee because he was the ‘expert’ on Open Meeting Law. 

   Haddad responded to her remarks, telling Evans, “You are not going to turn this on me. I didn’t send it out, you did…. This is outrageous.”

   As a result of this interchange, on January 14 2019 Evans sent a letter to Town of Groton Human Resource Director Melisa Doig issuing a formal complaint against Haddad.

   The Select Board discussed the complaint at their January 26, 2019 meeting and was joined by their labor counsel, Attorney Brian Maser of KP Law.

   Evans told the Board, “To my dismay, the complaint that I filed with the Human Resources was never acknowledged. I never heard anything about it. Is this ineptness or intimidation?” She said that the Board should review this process, adding, “I feel very exposed.”

   Select Board Chairman Barry Pease said the purpose of the discussion was to determine if there should be an investigation of the complaint, adding that this can be done in private or public session.

   Attorney Maser stressed that in an investigation, there are steps to follow. The Board can investigate internally, perhaps using two members of the Board and interview people or it can be farmed out to an independent third-party investigator and proceed with a traditional investigation. The report from this investigator would include whether the issues were substantiated or unsubstantiated, then the Board can proceed with any other action. 

   Maser said that the “discussion needs to focus on procedure and not merits. We are here tonight to discuss procedure and whether or not you want to initiate an investigation.”
   Select Board member John Giger said he felt it was important to have an investigation, not by town government, adding that no way should an investigator be involved with any or all parties.
   Selectman Josh Degen pointed out that the cost would be dictated by the scope of the services. Chairman Pease added that he “did not want dollars to constrain a proper investigation by a proper investigator.”
   Giger stressed that he felt strongly that “the investigation focus on the specifics and is not an invitation to go off on other issues.”
   Attorney Maser said that information would be given to an investigator. He cautioned, “It would start from Jenifer’s letter right now. The investigator should not go off on tangents. The idea that to throw this open to the universe would be laborious and take a long time.”
   Member Alison Manugian asked if the “complaint outlines the scope” and Maser replied, “yes.” He added that he could provide the Select Board with names including costs within the next 48 hours.
   Colleague Becky Pine said the investigation “should not be open to the universe but if other complaints are filed, could they be recommended to the investigator?”
   Manugian asked about specific dates and times so as to move forward with clarity. Maser replied that there may be ambiguity with times and dates regarding something that happened 27 months ago.
   Following further discussion, the Select Board voted unanimously to move forward with an external investigator in accordance with the approved investigator who had no service to the town before and no previous relationship with either party in the complaint.
 
   The following is the full text of the complaint leading to the Select Board authorization of an investigation of the Town Manager:
Jenifer Brinker Evans
24 Smith St
Groton, MA
 
14 January 2019
 
Melisa Doig
Human Resources Town of Groton
173 Main St
Groton, MA 01450
 
Dear Melisa Doig:
   This is a formal complaint regarding Town Manager Mark Haddad's behavior towards me. He has used verbal and physical methods to intimidate me over the years. I am currently an appointed member of the Fire Task Force Committee and an elected member of the Board of Assessors for the last nine years.
At the 7 January 2019 meeting of the Fire Task Force Committee, I asked Mr. Haddad a question regarding an Open Meeting Law violation.  I had sent an email to the committee prior to our  previous meeting, and  had reminded the committee the email should be made available to the  public and included in the minutes to avoid a violation. Given Mr. Haddad's position as town manager, and his knowledge of the Open Meeting Law, and as a recipient of the email and the reminder, I asked him why he didn't remind the committee to share the email so that the violation could be avoided. Rather than answer the question, he. began yelling at me. He began yelling phrases such as: "This is outrageous.", "Can you believe this?", "You are not going to pin this on me.", "You are wrong." He continuously Interrupted me. Due to his yelling and interruptions, I was not able to share my conversation with the Attorney General's office, nor any other  information.
   As the person charged with an Open Meeting Law violation, I should have been able to defend my actions, and my reputation.  Mr. Haddad's  behavior prevented that.
   The Chairman of the Fire Task Force Committee managed to regain control of the meeting, and Mr. Haddad quieted down.  A member read a formal response to the complaint, then asked if  I would  read the original email into the record. Due to the verbal attack, the member asked if I was "ok", or whether the member should read it for me. I took a deep breath and responded, "I'm ok.  This isn't the first time he has tried bullying and intimidating me." Mr. Haddad heard my response to the member, and began acting out again. While I was reading the original email, Mr. Haddad was muttering to numerous people in the room, he got up , walked to the door, returned to talk to Ms. Dunbar, then angrily left the room. He was followed by Select Board Member Giger. Mr. Haddad returned, and loudly took his seat and continued muttering while I was reading the email.
   It was reported in the Groton Herald that Mr. Haddad later apologized to the Select Board for his behavior during the Fire Task Force Committee meeting. He did not apologize to me nor the committee that was subjected to his behavior. Furthermore, in his apology, he stated, "It would be nice if, as adults, we took responsibility for our actions instead of trying to blame others," casting the blame at me, in a public meeting, when I wasn't there to hear the apology or defend myself.
   Regarding my comment to the other member about this not being the first time he had tried Intimidating and bullying me, here is a list of some of the previous times.
   In the fall of 2016, there was a problem between the Board of Assessors and the Principal Assessor Rena Swezey. Mr. Haddad tried to pressure the board into accepting Ms. Swezey's assessment numbers. As the elected officials sworn to fair assessments, we refused to sign off. Mr. Haddad wrote a report at the request of the Select Board to document the problem. He included  information in Appendix B that was out-of-date, out-of-context, and simply wrong. As written, it denigrated my honesty and ability, so I asked him to remove it or correct it.  He stared me down and said, "I'm not changing it." At a Select Board meeting on 12 December 2016 Mr. Haddad reviewed the report for the Select Board, and I again asked him to remove Appendix B. Mr. Haddad interrupted my request and began yelling about personal attacks.
   Mr. Haddad's behavior resulted in a third party writing a letter to the editor on 5 January declaring he owed me an apology.
   There have been a number of small physical acts, not easily documented but certainly noted, perpetrated by Mr. Haddad towards me over the years. One time I was standing in the hallway at town hall, and Mr. Haddad looked at me as he quickly walked by and "brushed" his shoulder into mine. Another time i was standing in the town hall foyer talking to two other parties. Mr. Haddad came out of the meeting room, rushed by, and "slammed" the break bar to exit the front door. The action drew the attention of the people I was speaking with who asked, "What was that about?" During town meeting when I have gotten up to speak, Mr. Haddad has gotten up from his seat at the table, stood "stage right", crossed his arms and stared me down across the auditorium. To be clear, Mr. Haddad does not regularly stand up during town meeting for speakers.
   I fully recognize that the physical acts of intimidation I've witnessed are easy to deny, or brush aside as overreaction or misinterpretation on my part. As an engineer, I work in a predominantly male field.  While I have rarely been the target of harassment or intimidation in the workplace, and I have never filed a complaint before, I am familiar with and have witnessed these subtle intimidation behaviors. Multiple such actions by Mr. Haddad in my presence are not a coincidence. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I have never opted to file a complaint when occasionally subjected to harassment or intimidation. I have always opted to let my work speak for itself, and to fight my battles with intellect. This has served me well for over 30 years in my career.  However, my interactions with Mr. Haddad are such that I don't have that opportunity.  He interrupts when I try to speak.  He raises his voice to shout over me.  He has the power of a paid position while I'm just a volunteer.  As the town manager, he commands the attention in all meetings.
   Therefore, I believe the only way to curtail this ongoing bullying and intimidating behavior is to file a formal complaint. I ask that the Human Resources department in the Town of Groton address his behavior in some manner, possibly to include anger management classes, and sexual harassment classes, and to share this information with the Select Board at the time of his next contract negotiation. This town relies on many volunteers. It has lost me as a volunteer while Mr. Haddad remains the town manager, and I know I'm not the only one to walk away.  How many volunteers can the town afford to lose?
Jenifer Brinker Evans
Fire Task Force Committee Board of Assessors
B.S. Elec Eng
M.S. Elec Eng
 
 
 
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