Friday April 19, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

WOODFORD -- The Woodford town clerk is being accused of sending offensive emails from a town email account, prompting the Select Board to seek a legal opinion of any potential repercussions.

The accusation against Town Clerk Ron Higgins was brought up by Holly O’Brien, clerk of the Select Board, at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting. O’Brien read aloud an excerpt of an e-mail she said Higgins sent to her and two other people in town in which Higgins referred to her using vulgar language.

"The A-- H


who takes the minutes does not know beans and hates me so and is so prejudicial and non-truthful about me supported by (Select Board Chairman Ryan) Thurber that nothing good ever comes out of the meeting!" a paragraph in the email reads.

The email was a response sent shortly after noon on March 27 to a resident asking for a copy of the voter checkout list from the March 5 election. The email, which was copied to O’Brien and one other person, is signed by Higgins. However, because it was sent from the official town clerk email address, the email message says it is from "Woodford Town."

"When an email goes out from the town of Woodford it says ‘from the town of Woodford,’ so that reflects on the town -- not (only) the individual who wrote it, that reflects on the town. That’s our problem," Selectman Michael Charette said.

Higgins has been immersed in a deep-seated feud between the Select Board and some town residents for more than a year. The war of words has led to accusations of lies and wrong doings from both sides on a regular basis and also strained efficiencies of town business.

Higgins, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, initially claimed he has never sworn at somebody in an email when questioned about it by phone Thursday. After being read the lines O’Brien read during the meeting the night before, Higgins said he did not remember calling O’Brien an obscenity but acknowledge he may have written the words in question.

"If I did, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to use bad language. They have got me so bad, they have harassed me so long, for 19 months, that I don’t choose my words properly and I do not accomplish what should be accomplished for the voters because of her and because of the Select Board," Higgins said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the conversation around the language in the email did not stray to other issues between Higgins and others.

"I’m just asking for the Select Board’s support on a request for his verbal abuse via that town computer, towards me, to cease," O’Brien said.

Chairman Ryan Thurber was not at Wednesday’s meeting; however, the other two selectmen agreed the email was a violation of the town’s computer use policy adopted in December that prohibits "communication that in any way may be construed by others as disruptive, offensive, abusive, discriminatory, harassing, or threatening."

"This behavior is unacceptable, we know that. It’s against town policy," Charette said.

"Any public official should not be sending out that type of comment to anybody. That’s not acceptable. I don’t care if it’s policy or not," added Selectman Steven Wright.

The board, and O’Brien, also said the most recent email is one of many inappropriate emails Higgins has sent using the town email account.

"This is one of probably 50, 60 of these comments in the last year and a half. This is nothing," Wright said. "It was a daily routine for a long time."

Charette and Wright agreed to ask Thurber after he returns from vacation to contact the town’s legal counsel to find out what repercussions there may be if a town official violates a town policy. If there is no way to legally enforce a policy, the board said it will consider other ways to enforce good practice, such as a town ordinance.