Selectmen To Discuss Complaints Against Harbormaster

A town lawyer found no evidence that supports a lifetime appointment for the town harbormaster and says the town employee serves at the will of selectmen.


Selectmen plan to hold a hearing as soon as later this month on complaints against the harbormaster's actions as well as the tenure of his position.

None of the complaints against Harbormaster Larry Bithell were made public at Wednesday's Board of Selectmen's meeting.

But in November, the chairman of the board said the harbormaster was standing in the way of progress.

"If he continues to obstruct the positive things that different and organizations are trying to do then the selectmen will have a discussion as to what the best course of action should be," Chairman Matt Strauss said.

On Wednesday, Strauss said that he asked the town's law firm to look into the harbormaster's term of employment after he had received complaints about the harbormaster.

Lawyer Darren Klein told board members on Wednesday that Bithell serves at their will.

Klein said he researched town records that show the current harbormaster was appointed to the position on a yearly basis from his first year of employment, 1978, until 1998.

At that point the Town Report started to list his appointment as permanent.

The lawyer said his office could find no minutes or other information that explained how the postion evolved into a permanent post.

After researching enabling legislation and other documents, Klein concluded that the harbormaster serves at the will of selectmen, and as such they could remove him from the post.

Klein said he would inform the harbormaster, in writing, of the complaints against him, as well as the time and place of the hearing.

The lawyer said the harbormaster has said he wants the hearing in open session, not behind closed doors.

Strauss said the harbormaster, like all department heads, should be appointed annually based on performance.

Bithell received $6,764 from the town in 2010, according to the town's list of annual salaries.

Below is a description of the harbormaster's duties, as described on the Massachusetts Harbormasters Association website:

"Harbormasters are municipal guardians of the waterfront, with duties ranging from Harbor Planning & Management, Mooring & Dockage Management, Education of the Public Regarding Safe & Legal Boating, Law Enforcement (of Statutes and Regulations involving the boating community), and Emergency & Search and Rescue operations.

"In such a wide range of duties, our harbormasters must work closely with other departments in their community, as well as the Massachusetts Environmental Police and the United States Coast Guard."



David Whelan January 06, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Lou: Care to explain how anyone is entitled to a lifetime appointment? And what does Larry's athletic abilities have to do with the matter? BTW, I don't know the man. Dave davidwhelanjr@gmail.com
Bridget Russo January 06, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I don't know the harbormaster but being a good athlete doesn't make one a good harbormaster. I think he does have a right to hear the accusations against him but I also think the job should be reviewed annually just like any other job. I'd love a permanent job where I didn't have to worry about my performance!
David Whelan January 06, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Lou: Perhaps one of the hiring criteria for the new Town Administrator should be that person's ability to play baseball when he/she was 12 years old? And if he/she could also show an ability to play football as a youth, maybe we throw in a lifetime appointment. Thoughts? Dave
David Whelan January 10, 2012 at 12:54 AM
He has roots and he grew up here. Sounds like he's wicked smaht. You just described half of the community.
David Whelan January 10, 2012 at 02:44 PM
We have elections for a reason. I'll let the Selectmen speak w Larry. As for dissing the "other half of town," please explain how it is possible that all residents have "roots and grew up here."
AmyO January 11, 2012 at 01:08 PM
The harbor master has been incredibly helpful to my family. We are new boaters, and his actions have shown us only concern for water/boat safety. I sure hope that disagreements with Strauss aren't simply labeled as obstructionist. If he's disagreeing for good reason, then we should all hear about it. Based on patch articles, it sounds like Strauss has a plan that the harbor master doesn't support, so Strauss wants him out. I want to know more.


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