Wednesday November 28, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Was Municipal Manager Timothy Cullenen reprimanded by town officials for comments he made during a Nov. 13 joint board meeting?

Though none of the 10 members of the two boards would offer a comment, according to the meeting minutes of Nov. 20, an executive session was called "for the purpose of a disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee ...."

The boards went into executive session at 8:08 p.m. and when they returned to regular session at 9:15 p.m., a confidential letter was placed in Cullenen's personnel file.

Cullenen, who is on leave until Dec. 3, had no comment on the executive session or the letter.

Tempers flared at a trustees meeting on Tuesday, Nov.

Tim Cullenen
Tim Cullenen
13, when village resident Jim Mitchell had something to say about overnight parking permits, which cost $40 a year. Mitchell asked why people should have to pay for overnight parking when downtown parking issues are being ignored. When Village President Roger Riccio told Mitchell the permits mentioned are for overnight parking, Mitchell said he knew for a fact that Cullenen was getting license plate numbers phoned to him every day and merchants in The Square are complaining about parking violations downtown.

Mitchell had tried to speak to Cullenen directly but Riccio said the proper thing to do is address the village president.

Cullenen then made a comment that some trustees and audience members considered disrespectful.


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"Roger, would you explain to Mr. Mitchell -- use very small words and talk really slowly -- that the parking permits are for overnight parking in municipal lots, which is completely separate from downtown parking during business hours," he said in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre.

Trustee Deborah Wright immediately objected to the statement, calling it "extremely rude."

Riccio acknowledged the "bad blood" that exists between Cullenen and Mitchell and tried to calm the situation.

Mitchell said he, as a stroke victim, has trouble formulating words and it's unfortunate that that is the reason Cullenen does not talk to him.

"No, Mr. Mitchell," Cullenen said. "It's because you constantly insult me and every other department head in this village. That is why I don't speak to you."

Village resident Catherine Bergmann, a former village president, told Riccio he has a responsibility to make sure Cullenen stays respectful to everyone and answer Mitchell personally. Riccio said he has no control over anyone's personality and/or the e-mails they send, referring to the messages Mitchell is known for sending to the masses in criticism of Cullenen and other village officials.

When asked during the public comment portion of the trustees meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27, Riccio said Rockingham Finance Director Chip Stearns assumes the municipal manager's duties in Cullenen's absence. The trustees meeting followed a Rockingham Selectboard special meeting and joint board meeting.

Riccio was asked for clarification as to whether Cullenen is on leave or vacation and responded, "Mr. Cullenen is not here. That is all I will say."

He had earlier said Cullenen had planned to be out of the office this week.

Riccio refused to talk about the letter signed in executive session in any way and would not say if a vote of no-confidence was taken, though Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Thomas MacPhee later assured the Reformer it was not.

Village resident Scott Wendel asked if it was a coincidence that Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake was not at the meeting and Trustee Colin James said the chief was on vacation last week and back at work starting Monday, Nov. 26.

Stefan Golec, who serves on both boards, told the Reformer earlier in the day that he had no comment on any personnel issue and would not discuss the matter.

Resident Mike Smith sent a letter in support of Cullenen to each trustee, making it public record. He said he has lived in Rockingham for 30 years, raised his children there and asked for leniency for the municipal manager.

"As you make the decision as to what to do concerning Tim, I hope you will consider your responsibility as an elected representative of the community and look beyond the specifics of this one incident to the larger issues of how you want to conduct the business of Bellows Falls and the town of Rockingham," the letter reads. "I have watched the discussion of issues in public meetings devolve into a quagmire of nitpicking, name-calling, and personal attacks with nothing being accomplished. I have watched and listened as the negative voices tear things down and obstruct. We cannot build a viable community by constantly tearing it down. This negative atmosphere was not created in just the last year."

He called for the development of an environment and atmosphere at town and village meetings that allows for conversation, objective discussion and the acceptance of different viewpoints.

"Instead of terminating Tim, and spending another year of with an acting town manager, paying for a search, spending months making a decision, only to find in another year that you did not pick the perfect town manager," he added, "I suggest that you spend a portion of that time, effort, and expense at working with Tim and the other members of the town and village to create the problem-solving environment that you would like to have."

He admitted Cullenen was abrupt with Mitchell but said there had been "a constant stream of provocation."

Mitchell, who was not at the Nov. 27 meeting, said he has not received an apology from Cullenen and does not want one.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.