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Kurtz, Tarr, trade accusations
PARIS — For the second time in recent months, Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr and Selectman Ted Kurtz publicly aired negative opinions about each other during a meeting of the board.
Tarr accused Kurtz of being inappropriately abrasive, while Kurtz said that he did not trust Tarr to tell the truth.
Tarr raised the issue by disseminating and reading a memo that he had written, which took issue with the language Kurtz used in an email exchange between the two.
Kurtz said that the substance of the issue that had sparked the exchange demonstrated that Tarr had "buffaloed" the budget committee, an assertion that other members of the board disagreed with.
Tarr, and others in attendance, accused Kurtz of not conducting himself appropriately as a selectman. Others defended Kurtz by pointing out that Tarr had chosen to make the matter a public issue.
"I don't like to make matters like this public, but it's coming to the point where it's consumed a lot of my personal time," said Tarr. "... The messages that Mr. Kurtz conveys are abrasive, personalized, and professionally inappropriate. ... Nothing [condones] a position of selectmen to personally insult a town employee, no matter who the employee is."
Tarr cited the type of language to which he objected, including accusations of "insubordination," and "misrepresentation of facts," and terms such as "unfortunately for your reputation," and "cannot be trusted."
Kurtz responded by recounting the issue which had caused the email exchange, and turned to face Tarr directly.
"You are a man that I cannot trust," said Kurtz.
The disagreement stems from the manner in which Tarr presented last year's budget numbers to the budget committee.
The budget committee was charged with creating a flatline budget, and came up with a budget for $3,398,000. The problem, says Kurtz, is that last year's budget was $50,000 less than that figure, a fact that he says Tarr hid from the committee.
"He completely buffaloed the budget committee and the budget process because up until April 6, he had represented last year's budget as being something other than it was," said Kurtz.
The discrepancy is due to the fact that, at a special town meeting last fall, voters approved an additional expenditure of $50,000 in order to support a paid firefighter force, an action which Kurtz has consistently opposed.
The question is whether keeping a flatline budget should include that $50,000 expenditure, which was approved by the town's voters, but which was not a part of the original budget approved at town meeting.
Board Chair Ray Glover said that Tarr's decision to include the expenditure in the budget figure was in alignment with his own understanding of the budget.
"That town meeting was held soon enough so that that additional monies could fit into the total amount raised in our tax assessment last year," said Glover. "That's why it was considered part of last year's budget."
Glover said that the entire budget committee had agreed, during their first meeting of the year, to work with the higher number.
Kurtz said that the matter had not been explained clearly to the budget committee, and that members of the committee had complained about the confusing manner in which the numbers had been presented.
Selectman Lloyd Herrick said that, since the people voted to spend the additional $50,000, it should be counted as part of the approved budget from last year.
Kurtz said that, when confronted, Tarr changed the numbers to reflect the lower amount, which he said supported Kurtz's point of view.
"Why did Phil reduce the number on April 14?" said Kurtz. "He's got the accurate number here. He doesn't agree with your interpretation ... Phil knew he was wrong because he changed the numbers."
Citizens in attendance weighed in on both sides of the sometimes-heated discussion.
Paris resident Franca Ainsworth, who serves on various committees for the town, lambasted Kurtz for his actions on the board.
"I wish to God I had never voted for you," Ainsworth said. "... You are not the board. You are a member of the board. ... You push and you push and you push ... sometimes you just disrupt the whole flow of this town, of the way things should be done."
Other citizens in the audience made the point that Tarr had raised the issue.
"The can of worms tonight was not opened by Ted. Ted simply responded," said citizen Barbara Payne, who is also active on town committees.
During his statement, Tarr said that he is not the only one negatively impacted by Kurtz.
"The fact that Mr. Kurtz chooses to pursue this course of action is negatively impacting all town employees," said Tarr. He said that accusations of "a person of being of poor character achieves no purpose except to fuel a powerfully negative working relationship that is most important between the board and its manager."
In other news, the board approved a change to the election date for town positions. The new date of the election is Tuesday, June 14, while the annual town meeting will be held on June 18. Two selectman positions will be open, as Lloyd Herrick and Ray Glover have indicated that they will not seek re-election.The election was originally scheduled to coincide with state elections, but the state has no issues to put before the voters, and so the date was moved to accommodate the budget referendum for SAD 17.
The Paris board will meet next on Monday, May 9, in the Paris Town Office.