Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The status of the town administrator hiring process is uncertain at this point after the disclosure that Fairhaven Selectboard member Keith Silvia has participated in the TA hiring process in apparent violation of the State Ethics Code.
During the Selectboard meeting on 3/11, ahead of the interview of a fourth candidate, Interim Town Administrator and Finance Director/Treasurer/Collector Wendy Graves, whom Mr. Silvia motioned to forward as a candidate beyond the three provided by the appointed TA Screening Committee, Mr. Silvia revealed that he would be recusing himself that night from Ms. Graves’s interview.
Mr. Silvia said he had only become aware the night before, on 3/10, that his participation constituted an ethics violation because the TA is the direct supervisor of his wife, Council on Aging Director Anne Silvia.
On 3/10, the Neighb News called Mr. Silvia to ask him if he was aware of his apparent conflict of interest, after the Neighb News spoke with Gerry Tuoti, Public Information Officer for the State Ethics Commission. Mr. Tuoti, who would only speak in general terms and not about a specific case, said the general rule would be that the elected official could not take part. He referred to G.L. c. 268A sec. 19 of the State Ethics Code, which outlines the violation, with the only remedy seeming to be recusal from any participation in the process.
Mr. Silvia announced his recusal that night, but before he left the room, he spoke further about his thoughts on the TA hiring process. He said he thought it would be conducted behind closed doors in executive session, and “nobody was supposed to talk about it.”
Still, he said, “I heard quite a bit through the neighborhoods about what went on, and I thought it was in very poor taste [and] some stuff put out that wasn’t true.”
He said the process was “kind of like a headhunting expedition” and that he was dismayed by how one candidate could be brought forward to the screening committee for consideration, “But if you go on Google search, you find stuff. I’m just curious why that stuff wasn’t brought out, either.”
“If we’re going to play on an even field, let’s bring it all out,” he said, adding: “I have no nickel in this quarter anymore, but just my suggestion would be, I feel it should be started all over again. I don’t think it was a fair process, and that’s just my opinion.”
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas wondered aloud whether the discovery, months into the process, could cause a problem for the board.
“So, I don’t know if we have to start from the beginning…. We’re probably going to have to end up doing that,” he said.
Before launching into a pre-written speech, Mr. Freitas said he had “finally had it with this process” with “too many … untruths.”
Then he read from a nearly 1,000 word speech, beginning, “I would like to address some issues that have been falsely put out by some people about the [TA] search. I nominated myself to be on the committee because I had heard some rumors about the process and some people who had been put on the committee to sabotage certain people’s chances of getting on the shortlist.”
He said the release of the committee’s executive session minutes would vindicate him.
“Ms. Graves was notified that she was chosen,” he continued. “Shortly thereafter, an article came out in the Neighborhood News (see the 1/14/21 issue). “Somebody had given Beth David Ms. Graves’s personnel file for the town.* This was highly unethical.”
He said when that information was published, rumors of sabotage “went from rumor to fact.”
He also criticized an email the TA Screening Committee received before it voted to forward Ms. Graves as a finalist (which it rescinded), advising the committee “that Ms. Graves was a terrible candidate.”
He said he tried to convince the committee that the information the Neighb News obtained about Ms. Graves “was false, but each time I tried to explain, I was shut off.”**
“So, when Keith brought up that Wendy should be given a chance to be interviewed, I thought it was appropriate that we at least give her a chance. Unfortunately, the rumors have no end,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Freitas also referred to a letter from a Finance Committee member, who later self-identified as Chris Fidalgo, that questioned Mr. Freitas’s and Mr. Silvia’s motives for their staunch support of Ms. Graves.
Mr. Freitas also accused Mr. Espindola of being involved to try to “make it look like I did something nefarious.”
He said Ms. Graves would get her interview “not because of bribes or promises to get people jobs.
“She’ll be given the chance because the folks who have tried to sabotage Ms. Graves’s chances will not be allowed to succeed,” Mr. Freitas said. and then told Mr. Espindola he should resign.
Mr. Espindola responded with bewilderment, denying the alleged involvement in any scheme with Mr. Fidalgo, and questioned Mr. Freitas’s apparent mistrust of the TA Screening Committee and how it was formed.
“I’m trying to figure out how that works because when the committee was formed, it was formed at the same time. You were appointed to that committee the same time as everyone else,” he said
“I know, Bob, you’re going to play like you don’t understand,” said Mr. Freitas, and added that his suspicions came true. “That’s why I put myself there, and, obviously, those concerns were well-founded.”
Mr. Espindola expressed concern about starting the hiring process over and expressed empathy for the screening committee members.
“We may have to start this whole process all over again because [Keith] shouldn’t have been involved in it at all,” said Mr. Freitas turning to the hiring consultant Bernard Lynch on the monitor for advice.
“I’m not an attorney,” said Mr. Lynch. “That’s a question for [Town Counsel] Attorney Crotty to give you advice on that.”
Mr. Lynch pointed out that there could be problems with State Ethics should a complaint be lodged.
“There will be questions raised,” he said and added that the State Ethics Commission sometimes reverses or orders matters to be revisited for compliance with the law.
“Given his participation in the other interviews, though, and him making the motion to [advance] Ms. Graves forward, I really, I don’t know,” said Mr. Lynch.
Mr. Freitas suggested postponing Ms. Graves’s interview again. The last time it was postponed was on 2/22 right after she had an attorney deliver a Cease and Desist order to Mr. Espindola for alleged defamatory remarks about her (see the 2/25/21 issue). Mr. Espindola argued in favor of holding the interview.
Mr. Freitas was hesitant, saying, “there’s another part of this and… there could be another issue, ” but he would not elaborate.
In the end, he declared: “Sure, let’s go on with the interview. What have we got to lose?”
The Neighb News sent a follow-up email directed to Mr. Crotty and forwarded to the Selectboard the morning of 3/15 asking questions about potential outcomes for the process, including whether or not the town needed to rescind the vote to appoint Ms. Graves as interim TA on 1/4. Mr. Silvia also participated when he appointed Dr. Brian Bowcock to the screening committee and also Cathy Melanson as the committee’s sole female member.
*The Neighb News received several letters and/or emails between former TA Mark Rees and Ms. Graves. The anonymous source did not provide her personnel file.
**Ms. Graves did not dispute the veracity of the leaked information (see 1/14/21 issue for her full statement)
Click here to download Mr. Freitas’s statement: 03-11-21 FreitasStatement
Support local journalism, donate to the Neighb News with PayPal.
Click here to download the entire 3/18/21 issue: 03-18-21 CandidatesNight