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Salem selectman's 'aggressive' behavior cause for investigation

SALEM - A board-initiated investigation into the behavior of Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell has been launched after several town employees expressed complaints in response to Campbell’s alleged "aggressive and hostile" interactions with them.

During Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Keith Hickey referred to a recent incident between Campbell and Human Resources Director Molly McKean.

Board Chairman Pat Hargreaves said the incident in questioned happened several weeks ago and all attempts to address the issue would happen before the public eye, as required by state law.

Hickey said he wanted the full board to be aware of the issue, noting that Campbell had visited Town Hall recently and "spoke to a staff member in an aggressive and intimidating voice."

"It's something I’ve wrestled with for the past couple of weeks," Hickey told the Board on Monday. "But if the roles had been reversed…steps would have been taken to address the behavior of the person who made these comments.

"It puts an employee who ultimately answers to me in a very uncomfortable situation," Hickey added. "This isn’t the first time this has happened…and it needs to be addressed so we can operate as efficiently as we can."

In a memo McKean sent to Hickey on Feb. 1, which was partially read into the minutes during the Selectmen meeting, McKean said she’s witnessed Campbell speak "aggressively" to other employees.

"This was an interaction about a particular separation agreement: Mr. Campbell was very upset but he told me it wasn’t directed at me, personally," McKean said. "One of the repeated complaints I’ve gotten is the behavior of (Campbell). I don’t take it lightly."

McKean said she felt Campbell’s information request in itself wasn't unreasonable, but she took issue with his harsh approach.

"He was seeking information as proper….but I simply could not let this go," she added. "I'm not seeking any punishment or sanction but I think the goal of all the people in this room is to make communication better."

“The problem I have is the complete lack of respect given (to staff) at times," Hickey said. "And ignoring this puts us at risk of litigation."

Selectman Jim Keller said he felt that "no employee in this town should be intimated by any member of this board, for any reason."

"That's a problem in my mind," Keller told Hickey.

"I think we all have to respect one another and that’s the biggest issue," Selectman Everett McBride Jr. said. "But I’ve known Stephen for many years: he’s edgy but that’s just the way he is."

"Steve is very intimidating, even when he talks to me," Hargreaves said. "But I take him with a grain of salt. He’s passionate about certain things: I’ve been told the same thing about myself."

Campbell said most of his interactions with town staff are limited to emails sent to Hickey, though once in a while he’ll be at Town Hall and decide there’s need to speak to someone face to face.

"In a great, great while if (Hickey) isn’t here, I’ll call a department head into question," Campbell said, denying any wrongdoing.

During the alleged unpleasant interchange with McKean, Campbell said he asked permission to question McKean at the start of the conversation.

"I'm sorry if you think it’s intimidating but (the expenditure in question) came as a complete surprise," Campbell told McKean on Monday. "I don’t know what the problems are. I know I’m a fiscal conservative and I know I’m not the favorite of all people in town. But I make it a point to go directly through the town manager most of the time: if I have to make it 100 percent of the time, then that’s okay with me."

Selectman Michael Lyons commended Hickey and McKean for bringing the matter to the board’s attention.

Following a lengthy discussion, the four other board members agreed Campbell's behavior was "unacceptable and shouldn’t happen again" and ultimately voted in favor of bringing in an external party or possibly the country attorney to investigate concerns about Campbell’s behavior. Campbell abstained from the vote.

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