Kuster visit relocated after Salem selectmen deem stop as political event
By ADAM SWIFT Union Leader Correspondent
SALEM — On July 1, Congresswoman Ann Kuster was scheduled to visit the Salem Fire Department to announce a new bill on carbon monoxide poisoning prevention.
However, that visit was relocated after two selectmen, Stephen Campbell and Everett McBride, expressed concerns about a political candidate using town property for what they characterized as a political event.
Town Manager Keith Hickey stated to another media outlet that he felt pressured to cancel the event at the fire station after being contacted by Campbell.
At Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, Hickey stood by that comment while Campbell said he was not pressuring Hickey, but expressed his concerns about Kuster using town property for a political event.
Hickey said he did not believe there was anything threatening or illegal about an email Campbell sent him prior to Kuster’s scheduled event, “but in my opinion, I was pressured into an attempt to eliminate the event at the Salem Fire Department.”
The reason the event was scheduled for the fire station, Hickey said, was because of the death of a Salem resident several years ago from carbon monoxide poisoning followed by the deaths earlier this year of three Plaistow residents.
“This issue has affected Salem in a negative way,” Hickey said. “Everything that goes on with politicians is political, but in my opinion, this would benefit the community if the legislation were approved in the future. This was not a candidate standing on a milk crate saying please vote for me later this year.”
Campbell noted that his email to Hickey was not an official board action demanding that the event be canceled, rather the thoughts of one selectman voicing his concerns. Campbell read the full text of the email at Monday night’s meeting.
“I would be very careful attending events like this that could be considered a political event, given the fact that Representative Kuster and Senator Shaheen are running for reelection,” stated Campbell in the email. “I would also be careful about politicians using town facilities for photo ops unless the staff also attended events for their opponents.”
Campbell objected to Hickey using the media to state that he felt he had been pressured by two selectmen to cancel the event. Campbell noted that there have been other instances where he has been criticized in the press by the town manager.
Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves asked Campbell to keep his comments to the issue at hand. Campbell requested that selectmen take up the larger issue of the criticisms at a future non-public session.
Selectman Michael Lyons said he believed Hickey had the authority to allow Kuster’s event at the fire station.
Hargreaves said he understood where both Hickey and Campbell and McBride were coming from on the issue.
“As the chairman of the board, I have to weigh both sides,” he said. “Let’s move on, and if the board has to make a policy of not allowing these types of events happening at town buildings, then the board can come up with a policy.”