At the April 11, 2011 meeting of the Rockport Select Board, a motion was made and approved to not renew the contract of Robert Peabody, town manager of Rockport. This was an emotional moment and remains so.

A casual observer might think this was an arbitrary and capricious decision. I don’t know the thoughts in the minds of the Select Board members when they voted, but I suspect there was more going on than might have been seen at the meeting. Through a separate set of circumstances I have become aware of related information which disturbs me greatly as a Rockport resident.

After the Rockport Budget Committee meeting on March 16 in the Rockport Town Hall, Peabody asked if I knew why the legal expenses for the current year were so high. He then said more than $3,000 of expenses had been incurred because of Tom Farley, one of the select board members.

On April 4, I sent an email to Peabody asking for details of those expenditures, thinking it was Farley running up the expenses. The next day I received an email from Peabody, the text of which follows:

“A rough tally indicates $4,765 not including March. Fees include issues with his right to serve on the SB (ongoing), conflicts of interests with bids, encroachment on his neighbor’s property, verbal harassment of the public works director, interference with the bidding process, and possible interference in collective bargaining (denied).”

It turned out the legal fees were not $3,000, but approaching $5,000 and were being incurred not at the request of Farley, but against him.

I was flabbergasted. Here was a town manager attacking a select board member, and incurring thousands of dollars of legal fees in the process at the expense of the town. He was not pursuing one point, but six different issues in this email, and apparently has more to add. Not only was an abuse of position by the town manager, but it amounted to his specifically targeting one of the Select Board members.

Even worse, the town manager had apparently been colluding with Select Board Chairman William Chapman on this as well. If you carefully watch the Part 1 video of the Select Board meeting, at youtube.com/rockportpolitics#p/a/u/2/5-EHogn857Y, at time 03:55, it’s evident that Chapman was prepared not only with the points above, but also with additional issues, such as a sign on Hoboken Gardens. No board member is allowed to act individually from the other board members without their authorization, but apparently Chapman had been in discussions with Peabody concerning blocking Farley’s vote. There was an allegation at the meeting of an “end run play.” If there was one, it was not by the board but by Peabody and Chapman.

As many of you might remember approximately a year ago in 2010, there was concern that Farley and then Select Board Chairman Robert Duke might be in violation of the Rockport Town Charter and should not be serving on the select board. Peabody was one of the primary driving forces in this challenge. In addition to the charter question, Peabody approached me with some of these same allegations about Farley, but I dismissed them as questionable, irrelevant and inappropriate. A formal hearing was held by the select board per the advice of the town attorney. I spoke against Farley at that hearing. The select board did not vote to remove Farley. I accepted the decision and moved on. Instead he continued to pursue Farley, not only on the resolved charter matter but also on an increasing number of additional allegations.

One might wonder why Peabody might be going after Farley so hard. We can only guess. However, it’s a fact that Peabody was due for a review from the select board and it’s a fact that Chapman was prepared to exclude Farley from the voting because he might be “biased.” Farley is a victim twice, once for being stalked and the second time for being upset about it.

This is not the type of town government I want. And I suspect it’s not the type most Rockport citizens want. Something needed to be done.

I’m sure this was an awkward process for the board members who voted not to renew the contract. They were presented with egregious behavior from the town manager, who was supported in this behavior by the chairman of the select board. They were offering Peabody a graceful way out, and publicly stated several times their willingness to explain their thoughts in executive session, but there seemed to be no interest from the other two board members.

Instead of our chastising these board members, Landrith, Fogel and Farley, who made this hard decision, we should value and thank them for having the courage to stand up for the town. If a board member can be targeted for harassment by the town manager, who will be next? Other board members? Town employees? Or Rockport citizens? Me? You? Someone had to speak up and take action. We know it was very difficult…we could see it in their faces. But they rose to the occasion.

 

Robert H. Nichols lives in Rockport, and is former chairman of the Rockport Select Board. He currently serves on the town’s budget committee and is running for a seat on the Select Board.