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GROTON

Top official faces inquiry over e-mails

Resident questions intent of messages

A private investigator is looking into whether Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad misused town resources while communicating via text and instant message with a female resident over a period of several months last year.

Anna Eliot, the chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the investigation has just started and is expected to take several weeks.

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Eliot said there is no evidence to suggest that Haddad broke any laws, but the board wants to gather all the facts. The resident, Meghan Volpe, says Haddad was inappropriate and promised her town services not available to other residents.

“We feel the town manager has not compromised any town resource, but we want to make sure we have all the accurate information,’’ Eliot said. “We wanted someone from the outside, so we aren’t investigating ourselves.’’

Haddad said he welcomes the investigation and will cooperate fully. “This is nothing more than a witch hunt and I will be exonerated,’’ said Haddad, who has served as Groton’s town manager since 2008.

Haddad acknowledges corresponding with Volpe but denies any wrongdoing. Haddad, who is married, said his behavior, which involved flirting and joking, was “indiscreet and childish.’’

Haddad was the focus of two sexual harassment allegations while he was the town manager in Cohasset in 2004.

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The town settled the cases out of court, paying the two municipal employees $70,000 each.

Haddad has said the allegations are false.

Groton’s Board of Selectmen released a statement early last month stating that it had received complaints from Volpe alleging inappropriate communication that started in February 2011.

The board reviewed a series of e-mail and instant message transcripts provided by Volpe, and concluded that while some of the content was “crude or distasteful, the communications were private, consensual behavior, and that special favors or services were not promised.’’

Two weeks later, after meeting in an executive session, the board agreed to hire an investigator to review the background and history of the communications.

The investigator, with Billingsgate Associates in Wellfleet, will prepare a report to the board so its members can better judge whether any additional action is warranted, Eliot said. She said the town has budgeted $3,000 for the investigation.

“We want to satisfy the public’s concerns that we are looking into this and being as thorough as we can be,’’ Eliot said.

Based on the correspondences, Eliot said, it was difficult for the board to get a clear picture of what transpired.

“Sometimes her comments or concerns are conflicting,’’ Eliot said.

Haddad has not been placed on leave while the investigation takes place, and has not been officially disciplined, Eliot said.

“He still continues to conduct business in a professional manner as we are going through this difficult period,’’ Eliot said. “He knows we’re very concerned and take this very seriously.’’

Volpe said she has been communicating with the investigator, providing him with all correspondences. She described it as a “truly shameful and unfortunate event’’ for the town.

She said she would like to see Haddad punished. She would also like the board to publicly apologize to her for not addressing her allegations more quickly, and she wants to be part of a committee that would determine a protocol for how such complaints are handled.

In an e-mail to the Board of Selectmen describing the course of events, Volpe said she started corresponding with Haddad last February over a town issue, and continued on and off for several months via text message, instant message, and e-mails.

But Volpe, who is a single mother of two, said she learned in the fall that Haddad was married. She said his flirtation continued despite her repeated refusals to meet for coffee or drinks. She also said she felt uncomfortable because Haddad offered to make a call to get her power restored after the October snowstorm. Volpe said she felt like she was being sexually harassed, and she feared for her safety by bringing the allegations forward.

Volpe said she first brought the allegations to selectmen in November.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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