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Accusations fly among Paris leaders
PARIS — Selectman Ted Kurtz and Town Manager Phil Tarr traded harsh accusations on Monday evening, fallout of an effort by some members of the board to be more involved with the town's day-to-day operations.
Much of the evening's meeting dealt with the purchase of a golf cart by Police Chief David Verrier. Members of the board felt they had been left in the dark about the cost of the acquisition.
Near the end of the board meeting, the discussion turned hostile when Kurtz and Tarr accused each other of improper conduct.
The argument pitted Tarr's rights to privacy against the public's right to know.
Kurtz said that Tarr had illegally blocked a discussion of his performance from the evening's agenda, while Tarr said that Kurtz had violated his rights to privacy as an employee of the town.
The issue stemmed from an effort by Kurtz to have the board formally discuss Tarr's actions related to the golf cart purchase.
Kurtz brought up an exchange of emails that had occurred between Kurtz and Tarr earlier in the week.
Kurtz had requested that Tarr put a closed-door, executive session, item on the agenda to discuss the duties of the town manager. Tarr said that the emails contained private information about his employment. All emails sent to and from municipal computers are considered public information.
Addressing Tarr directly, Kurtz asked "On what basis did you take it upon yourself to disregard the bylaws of our town and just tell me that you were not going to list a request that I had made for inclusion in the agenda?"
"Because, Mr. Kurtz, you violated my rights," said Tarr. "You asked for an executive session ... and then you went on to list a bunch of stuff that you wanted to talk about and it ended up in a public document on my computer, on your computer, and that's what I objected to, and I told you that I objected to it."
Tarr said that he had asked Kurtz to reword the request in a way that respected his right to privacy, but that Kurtz had neglected to do so.
"So I took it and I just referred it to Chairman Ray [Glover], that I am not putting it on under those circumstances, and that was it," said Tarr.
Kurtz maintained that the law requires him to specify the reason for an Executive Session request, and that those reasons needed to be included in the email.
"There was no respect in which I violated your legal rights," said Kurtz. "... If you're going to persist in your point of view on this, we're going to have to get to the bottom of this."
"I work for the entire board, not for you, Mr. Kurtz, as an individual," responded Tarr. "It is totally appropriate for you to represent your concept and your ideas to your colleagues, but to do what you did in emails and expose your personal feelings about me was wrong. Totally wrong."
"I've done it here in public tonight, and I'm going to continue to do it," said Kurtz.
He insisted that it is "not a question of a private matter to be settled in a back room between you and a board. This is the public's business. I'm going to consider anything like this happening again to be a very serious breach of your responsibilities and duties as a town manager.
Selectwoman Jean Smart criticized Tarr's decision to keep the item off the agenda. She linked the decision to former members of the board, who have been recently ousted from office.
"Three of the former board members who hired you, who are no longer sitting here, practiced the same kind of behavior and it's of deep concern to me," said Smart. "When one person can usurp the authority of written documents like bylaws or state laws and say 'I will decide what's going to happen,' that undermines the whole democratic process, and I think that's kind of scary."
Members of the board do have the power to change the agenda during their meeting.
"I did not deny Ted [Kurtz] the opportunity to put something on the agenda," said Tarr. "I did ask him to reword it the way it should have been worded, and leave the context of the discussion out."
Tarr noted that the email had been unwittingly disseminated to one of his employees by Smart, for which Smart apologized.
"It does get me upset when members of the board, who should also know the correct and proper way of dealing with things, don't do it," said Tarr. "I had an issue with that, and I think rightfully so."
"You have this notion that if you do something that we think is not proper... that somehow you can get us to retreat behind the closed door, have a nice chatty chat chat with you, and then everything is going to be hunky dory," said Kurtz. "The presentation of issues to the board of selectmen is the public's business. ... I can't think of anything that is more quintessentially the public's business than that."
The conversation ended with a terse exchange between the two.
"Do we have an understanding about that?" asked Kurtz.
"I said your message has been received," said Tarr.
"And we understand that?"
"Message has been received."
"Right. Are you agreeing to that?" asked Kurtz. "You've heard me, I understand."
"I just think, Ted, we've taken this far enough."
"Are you going to tell me that you agree that this is proper?" asked Kurtz.
"I said your message has been received. It's never been an issue with me in the past," said Tarr. "I don't anticipate it to be an issue in the future. I think we're over it. I think you're done. I want to thank you."