Hefner calls councilors ‘pathetic’; Salvatore: that’s ‘appalling’

Hefner calls councilors ‘pathetic’; Salvatore: that’s ‘appalling’

CUMBERLAND – Controversies swirling between some members of the Town Council and Mayor Bill Murray spurred a Cumberland employee to lash out at the elected body last week, though he made it clear he was doing so as a town resident.

Town Solicitor Tom Hefner, answering questions on the hiring of attorneys and proposed charter revisions at the June 6 council meeting, called the majority Town Councilors “pathetic,” saying he’s “never heard so much BS in my life” on an ongoing dispute over attorneys.

The outburst came as Murray and some members of the council continue their disagreement over whether the council should be able to pay for its own attorney based on charter language requiring “extraordinary or limited” circumstances.

The council, based on the advice of the attorney they previously hired, Kelley Morris, responded to questions about its own attorney by moving the Cumberland Legal Department’s budget under the Town Council line item in the budget, with Councilor Tom Kane saying he wanted more oversight on the hiring of attorneys.

Hefner said the council simply doesn’t have the authority to hire Morris, and he declined to take questions from her during the June 6 meeting. He described her as “an illegal, charter-violating legal counsel.”

Morris, who has held various positions in local government for many years, had called Murray out a week earlier for hiring outside attorneys without the council’s approval, as required in the town charter.

Council members on June 6 asked a number of questions on proposed amendments to the town charter set to go to voters this fall, particularly related to what they said were confusing discrepancies in how many meetings school board members would be required to attend and whether the Town Council should have the power to hire its own attorney.

Morris said she doesn’t believe the question should even be put to voters, since the charter already states that the council “can hire any lawyer it wants,” as she put it. She cited examples where town councils hired their own attorneys in the past.

That’s when Hefner tore into Morris and the council, calling her statements “absolute garbage” and saying attorneys are only to be hired in extraordinary and limited circumstances.

“I get ticked off when I see a Town Council like this, which is the worst in the history of this town, think it can do anything it wants and not have to go to the voters,” he said. “You’re pathetic. There’s five of you, you’re pathetic.”

Hefner, who worked with a charter review commission on proposed amendments, had said he hadn’t been planning to answer questions, thinking that commission Chairman Dave Chenevert would be at the meeting.

Hefner’s comments prompted School Committee Chairman Ray Salvatore, who is dating Morris, to call for his resignation, and led other council members to level criticism at him.

Salvatore, who is campaigning for Jeff Mutter for mayor, said as a taxpayer and voter, he found the way Hefner addressed the council to be “appalling.” He said he finds the way the mayor speaks at meetings to be “toxic,” and said it saddens him to hear “the edge” the mayor has.

Councilor Craig Dwyer then hinted that the only impact to the level of discourse over the past two years has been that Salvatore has been chairman of the school board.

Murray this week responded that Hefner clearly stated he was getting up to speak as a town resident, “and he has a right to say what he wants.” He said there is no reason for him to resign.

“I’m not going to get into that fray,” he said.

Kane’s other changes to Murray’s budget, approved by a majority on the council, including cutting $5,000 from a contingency account, had Murray telling the council last week he was “totally blown away as to what was voted on” with their “baffling” cuts.

The mayor said council members were “playing games” on one side of the budget while simultaneously boosting school funding to cause a larger tax increase.

He added that morale in Town Hall, due to small cuts in many line items, including intern pay and office supplies, is “destroying morale” among town employees. He went through each item to explain how he had been planning to use the money, including replacing outdated computers, giving a gas allowance to an inspector, repairing on 2004 vehicles, and having interns do legwork on multiple projects to improve town assets.

“We won’t have the manpower,” he said. “I just don’t see the sensibility to these cuts when it doesn’t mean anything.”

Kane and others had pointed out that a number of the line items hadn’t been spent down in prior years.

Councilor Scott Schmitt said he wasn’t in complete agreement with all the amendments made, but said the budget as presented was probably the best that could be expected. Dwyer and Kane voted no on the budget, Kane saying it was because “it is leading Cumberland into an uncertain fiscal future that will have far-reaching implications for all taxpayers.”

Kane, a Murray opponent, said at the end of last week’s meeting that the council did nothing that should have prompted the responses it received from Hefner and Murray, calling for “more civilized meetings going forward.” He said all town leaders are in this with good intentions, and there are steps to be taken to improve the atmosphere at meetings.

Councilor Bob Shaw said the council just had one of its best meetings in a while working with the school board. He turned what he considered a “how dare you” approach from the administration back on Murray, saying, “How dare you put us in a situation” with the town’s tax levy this year. Shaw was referring to Murray’s lowering of the 2017-2018 tax levy, or total amount collected in taxes, to .89 percent, a process Shaw, Mutter and others contended was full of problems and left the town short on needed revenue.

Comments

You indicate that the School Committee and Council just had one of their best meetings in a while. Was that because the Council agreed to fleece the taxpayers on the School Committee's behalf for almost every dollar that they requested?

Why doesn't anyone hold them accountable for paying for a Principal they fired, not bidding out work, etc?

Having lived in this Town since 1965, and been involved in many capacities (Elected, Appointed, Volunteer, etc.) I fully agree with Mr. Hefner, as I am sure due hundreds, if not thousands, of this Town's residents, that "some members" of the current council are the most pathetic ever to serve on that esteemed body.

Never in the history of this Town has such vile, vicious, unconscionable, petty, self-serving, egotistical behavior, and worse, been de Rigueur on an, almost, every meeting basis...this kind of deplorable and unprofessional behavior by, especially, three of them.

Hopefully this Town's Democratic and Republican Parties have been paying attention and are seeking out candidates to replace those that have clearly demknstrated they should never have been elected in the first-place.

And, while we are talking about replacing 3 or 4-members of the council...while the School Committee is Non-Partisan, I think the time has long since come and gone for both of this Town's political parties to take a keen interest in the School Committee and seek out candidates to run in that race as there are a few there, one in particular, that need go!

I beg to differ with comments made regarding the quality of members serving on the town council and school committee. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t long ago that former TC and SC members, along with mayors, neglected the high school to the point that it was close to losing its accreditation. Perhaps the Valley Breeze should share some of those memorable photographs of the deplorable conditions – all brought to you by poor fiscal planning and a lack of investment.

And let’s not forget taxpayers being told that Charter Schools wouldn’t cost them any tax dollars - the school district would not be negatively impacted. Or, that the consolidation of the fire districts would create substantial savings. Those were whoppers! At least current TC and SC members are willing to ask questions, follow the Charter, and think for themselves rather than blindly following a mayor. Isn’t that what the are elected to do?

Leadership sets the tone for Town Council meetings – and that leadership starts with the Mayor and his administration. Name calling, “you’re pathetic,” is what schoolyard bullies resort to when they are not mature enough to engage their opponents constructively – what a poor example the administration is setting for public discourse.

Being Mayor is not about getting your way and throwing a fit when you don’t. It’s about developing, communicating, and encouraging others to see that you have a vision worth following. It’s about understanding that you and your administration serve the entire town – not the other way around. Put simply, it’s not about you. It’s about making Cumberland better.

Now I beg to differ. The problems at the schools are the result of bad management by the School Committee. Has always been that way and no matter how much money you pour in...it wont change anything. When you have the chairman now showing up for meetings and showing no concern for the job he holds, there's a problem. When we spend $400,000 on a pool, don't tell me there's no money. The money is being wasted. Voters of the Town, first vote them out and secondly vote down any school bond issue whether it be local or state. Sorry to see the "pathetic" Town Council.
Other than Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Schmidt, the others are useless and pathetic. They admitted they don't care about the senior citizens who have paid taxes all these years so this council can have an education and they admittedly want to raise our taxes more and more. The Mayor has tried to fund the schools and keep our taxes down. At least he cares. Mr. Hefner, you are 100% right. Thank you for speaking the truth. Voters...vote out this council if you want to be able to afford to live here.