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UPDATED: Chairman Defends Prohibition on Public Comment at Harbormaster Hearing

Challenger Glenn Kessler responds to remarks by Chairman Matt Strauss. The chairman on Wednesday addressed criticism levied against him by Kessler and others.

 

Board of Selectmen Chairman Matt Strauss on Wednesday responded to criticism that he overstepped his authority earlier this year by restricting public comment at a hearing on Harbormaster Larry Bithell's job performance.

Strauss said he has been criticized by those including Glenn Kessler, his opponent in the April 24, town election, for not allowing the public to speak at the Feb. 1, hearing.

The hearing was held in public, at the request of the harbormaster. There was a large crowd.

The chairman said his decision was based on the desire for the hearing to proceed in an orderly fashion.

"Had I allowed all to speak, both for and against the harbormaster, the discussion, in my opinion, would not have been productive and, quite frankly, had the potential to get ugly," he said on Wednesday.

Strauss made his comments during selectmen's time, at the end of Wednesday's meeting, a time reserved for board members to address items of their choosing.

On Friday, April 13, the challenger in the selectmen's race had a response to the chairman's comments.

They included the following:

 

"I was at the Selectmen’s meeting the night of the harbormaster discussion and I stand by my opinion that our residents’ who came to voice their points of view should have been allowed to be heard, both for and against Mr. Bithell.

At Wednesday evening’s Selectmen’s meeting, my opponent argued that discussion by residents 'would not have been productive.'

That’s one of the primary differences between us. I believe that our neighbors have every right to be heard by our town government. As far as the potential “to get ugly,” evidently I have more confidence in our town to be able to have a spirited discussion about an issue without losing decorum."

 

Back on Feb. 1, selectmen voted unanimously to make the harbormaster an annual appointment, saying the annual review will inspire accountability.

Strauss and board member Jill Sullivan said Harbormaster Larry Bithell had become unaccountable to former Town Administrator Andrew Maylor and some members of the public.

Bithell's 33-year tenure will be reviewed before renewal for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Glenn Kessler April 13, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I was at the Selectmen’s meeting the night of the harbormaster discussion and I stand by my opinion that our residents’ who came to voice their points of view should have been allowed to be heard, both for and against Mr. Bithell. At Wednesday evening’s Selectmen’s meeting, my opponent argued that discussion by residents “would not have been productive”. That’s one of the primary differences between us. I believe that our neighbors have every right to be heard by our town government. My campaign has been about listening to our residents and giving them a voice, regardless of what precinct you live in. As far as the potential “to get ugly”, evidently I have more confidence in our town to be able to have a spirited discussion about an issue without losing decorum. Mr. Bithell has been the harbormaster for over 30 years, and during that time has gained both admirers and detractors. It is a difficult position to be in, but at a minimum, he deserved to be treated respectfully at the Selectmen’s meeting. If elected I will ensure that our residents’ voices will be heard. This was clearly not the case that evening.
Matthew Strauss April 14, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I was not aware that we were going to have a forum to debate topics pertaining to our race for selectman other than candidates night but I will gladly accept the invitation. I have been a selectman for three years, participating in 70+ meetings over that time, over 20+ as Chairman. We have resident comment on every agenda. I have also encouraged comments at our meetings from residents on topics I feel are of widespread importance to the town. At no time has resident comment ever been discouraged. The personnel issue that is being discussed truly should have been held in private, as all personnel issues should. The open meeting law however dictates that those involved in personnel discussions have the right to have their discussions held in public. That was the case with the harbormaster. At his request it was held in a public forum. It was an issue involving him, the Board of Selectmen, and legal council. It was not a resident issue, it was a personnel issue. Sometimes in leadership positions it is necessary to make decisions or take actions that are prudent but not necessarily popular. That is what I did that evening.
Matthew Strauss April 14, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I have run my campaign on my record and accomplishments. Some of which include: Supported joining the GIC health care plan for town employees lowering our towns cost for health care and saving the town over $900,000 in the first year. Rejecting the first bid for the old temple property as inadequate which turned into accepting the following year’s bid and securing over $1,000,000 in additional sale price for our town. Leading the Board of Selectmen through the process of selecting a new Town Administrator. On another occasion I voted to merge our procurement services with the city of Salem. That was a difficult decision because it involved someone I knew well that was going to lose their stipend because of the decision. One of my fellow selectmen that night told me to recuse myself if the decision was too difficult to make, however my response to that was that I did not become a selectman to not make the difficult decisions. I think I possibly hurt a friendship that evening but when I took the oath to be a selectman I swore to always do what was in the best interest of the town and I truly believe I always have and always will. Never have I criticized my opponent during this race and no matter how tempting I do not intend on doing it now. On Tuesday April 24th I ask you to cast your vote for me, Matthew Strauss, candidate for re-election, Swampscott Board of Selectmen. Thank You.
Citizen Swamp April 14, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Mr. Strauss, Buy an ad. CS

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