Tempers flare at Southwick meeting


SOUTHWICK – Discussions late into the Board of Selectmen’s meeting turned heated among board members Monday night.
Tempers began to flare toward the end of the nearly three-hour meeting during a discussion of the Department of Public Works (DPW) employee transition to the College Highway building, initiated by Selectwoman Tracy Cesan.
Under old business, Cesan asked why Engineer Richard Grannells has not yet moved his office to the new building despite a formal approval by the board for him to do so.
“I don’t know why Dick is refusing to go,” Cesan said. “He has been asked twice.”
Selectman Russell Fox said he wants to speak to Grannells and DPW Director Jeffrey Neece about the transition, adding that it was his understanding that Grannells would work mornings at Town Hall and afternoons at the DPW garage. He said he planned to speak to both men about the situation.
Cesan also questioned why the DPW administrative assistant was still in Town Hall when the rest of the staff was at the College Highway facility.
“We promised the people of this town we would have a functioning DPW there and we don’t,” she said.
Cesan then referenced a PulseLine caller who stated that no one ever answers the DPW phone. Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart said that was a problem with the telephone system and calls made to the DPW garage should be directed to the phone of the assistant in Town Hall. He added that having the assistant at the new facility was never a condition of the garage.
“I think it’s poor business practice,” Cesan said, who then asked Fox and Chairman Arthur Pinell if they thought it was okay to have the assistant and director in different locations.
“That’s the way it always was,” said Pinell, referring to the previous director who had an office at the former DPW garage while the assistant worked out of Town Hall.
Cesan said she believes the board is not forcing the issue for “personal reasons” because of the seniority of the employee.
Pinell told Cesan that “personal attacks are not appropriate” during the meting. Both board members spoke with raised voices during the discussion.
Pinell then requested that Cesan obtain an opinion from Town Attorney Ken Albano on whether or not Cesan should partake in discussions related to the employee handbook and collective bargaining.
Cesan is employed as the assistant to Fire Chief Richard Anderson. Before her election, Cesan obtained a letter from the state stating she was allowed to be both an employee of the town and a member of the board. It was ruled that she abstain from voting on items related to the Fire Department and its employees. At one of the first meetings after Cesan’s election, the ethics commission and Albano found that Cesan should use her discretion on whether or not to vote on other employee-related items.
Pinell’s request followed an earlier discussion about a request from Town Clerk, Treasurer and Collector Michelle Hill to use flex-time as allowed in the employee handbook to bring her child to school in the morning because of a medical condition that made taking the bus unsafe. Hill also requested that she be able to attend functions for another child, a high school senior, that may take place during business hours.
Cesan stated that she had no issues with Hill arriving a little late to Town Hall to bring her child to school.  However she was concerned that allowing her to attend school functions during the day would result in an influx of requests from other employees wishing to do the same. Fox said he, too, had concerns about the second half of Hill’s request and made a motion to table the request to review the flextime options in the employee handbook.
When Pinell requested Cesan seek an opinion from Albano, she asked that she be able to use an attorney of her choosing for the opinion.
“I would feel more comfortable to use a different attorney, as well as the ethics commission,” she said. “And, may I remind you that it is my choosing whether or not I vote. If you think I’ve broken the law on an ethical issue, you have the right to pursue that.”
“Do you recall the opinion of Attorney Albano that you shouldn’t partake in discussions on the fire department?” Pinell retorted.
Cesan then stated that there is “obvious animosity” toward her from Pinell and Fox and Pinell told her not to make personal attacks once again.
Pinell then motioned for adjournment for executive session.

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