Three quit Town Hall

  • Wendy Drouin

  • Michelle Spears of Temple stands to speak during an emergency Select Board meeting on Tuesday, while Town Clerk Wendy Drouin listens. STAFF PHOTO BY Ashley Saari

  • Shannon Kelley

  • Three Temple town employees quit their posts this week, citing conflict with Selectwoman Gail Cromwell. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Town Clerk Wendy Drouin, left, David Drouin and Deputy Clerk Jeanne Whitcomb listen to comments by John Kieley during a Select Board meeting on Tuesday, March 27, 2016 to discuss Whitcomb and Wendy Drouin’s resignations from their positions. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Ashley Saari—Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/31/2016 4:12:25 PM

An emergency meeting was held Tuesday to address the abrupt resignations of three town workers, all of whom cited conflict with Chair Gail Cromwell as a reason behind their decision.

Town Clerk Wendy Drouin, Deputy Clerk Jeanne Whitcomb and Treasurer Shannon Kelley all resigned last week, announcing their intent to step down within the month of April, Drouin and Kelley on April 7 and Whitcomb on April 28.

During the emergency meeting, Select Board members Ken Caisse and George Willard asked the three to remain in their positions, either permanently or at least for a 30-day trial, so that the board could mediate the issue.

“It would be a total shame to lose any one of them,” said Caisse.

The three women did not respond to the request on Tuesday, but did agree to a request by Willard to put together a list of concerns and possible solutions.

Drouin and Kelley were both re-elected to their positions on March 8 after running unopposed. Whitcomb, who also serves as the elected tax collector, will be keeping that office.

Personalities clash

After the Select Board posted the agenda for an emergency meeting to discuss all three resignations, there was a flurry of questions on a public Facebook page set up for Temple area residents to interact and post local news. Drouin responded to some of the resulting questions by writing “… that situations are causing me to bow out. The office as a whole has been subject to an overbearing amount of negativity over the last few years. Change has to happen.”

Drouin, Whitcomb and Kelley expanded upon that sentiment during the meeting itself, saying the office as a whole had come to “[dread] going into work” and that they “feel under an onslaught often.”

“The conditions are dire,” agreed Kelley. “It’s very unpleasant. It’s not fair to any one of us.” She said there was no single inciting incident, saying, “If we go through every scenario that’s happened, we’ll be here all night.”

The three specifically pointed to conflict with Cromwell, citing “personal attacks” and “belligerence,” alleging that Cromwell had, in passing remarks, belittled their jobs or performance. In particular, they cited one incident where Cromwell had come into the town office and confronted Selectman’s Administrative Assistant Deb Harling in what they said was an aggressive manner and accused her of deliberately misrepresenting the Select Board’s views by not including the board’s recommendation on the warrant article regarding whether or not to continue a joint police force with Temple, as well as various other mistakes with the town report.

Cromwell admitted that she had “yelled at Debbie,” and said she would apologize for that, but defended her actions by saying that the police issue was a particularly important one, and the mistake in the recommendation was significant.

“It was a critical matter that this was omitted. This was a serious error. And to say that I attacked Debbie, I think that is quite incorrect,” said Cromwell.

When asked about how she herself viewed the incident, Harling confirmed, “I did feel attacked. I had already been accused of changing the warrant by phone.” Harling said that the mistake was not deliberate, as Cromwell had alleged, and the warrant had been approved by the board as it appeared in the report. The mistake was fixed by putting stickers with the correct recommendation over the incorrect information in all of the reports. 

Comwell disputed the claims that she had made any such attacks against Drouin, Whitcomb or Kelley, saying that she was often in the office to consult with Harling, but that she “only said hello” to any of the elected officials, and never tried to interfere with their jobs. 

Cromwell was also defended by former Select Board member and current Budget Committee Member John Kieley, who said Cromwell  was only doing her job as a selectwoman. 

 Steps forward

When the board and the officials discussed possible ways to quell the unrest in the town office, all three women were clear on one issue: They would like to see the board move as a cohesive unit.

“If we’re approached, it should be by all three selectmen,” said Kelley.

While Cromwell said she felt the board was already operating this way, both Caisse and Willard said that she had, in the past, not done so.

“I find you very adept at the budget,” said Willard, “But I find you to be autocratic in many cases. I do think you need to be more civil.”

Drouin also suggested that “communication is key” and that she would like to see more communication happen in writing so that there is no later confusion. She added that any communication should also be coming from all three members of the board, either by email where all members were copied, or communications approved by the whole board. 

“The board should decide any discipline together. It should be done in writing. It shouldn’t be a mockery,” said Drouin. 

It was suggested from the crowd that a town office liaison should be appointed to be a point person with the elected officials. Willard indicated that he would be willing to do that if it smoothed the situation. 

“If there is a problem, I think I can talk to the employees and town officials in a civil manner,” said Willard.

Resident Connie Kieley suggested that a single liaison might be inappropriate, saying that all three members of the board had equal right to go into the town office or conduct town business as needed.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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