A few weeks ago, with the Barnstable Town Council on the verge of amending his contract and rumors circulating that he had resigned, Barnstable Town Manager John C. Klimm said he felt like Mark Twain, who famously once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Based on last night’s session, that appears to have been an apt analogy.
A crowd of several hundred filled the Knight Lecture Hall at Barnstable High School last night.
They stood shoulder to shoulder, lining the walls of the auditorium.
There may have been a performance of “The Reluctant Dragon” next door in the Barnstable Center for the Performing Arts, but there was no doubt where the real drama would be.
It was soon evident that many came to last night’s meeting of the Barnstable Town Council to take the councilors to task—in particular the six councilors from Precincts 1, 3, 5, 11, 12, and 13—for what they said was shoddy treatment of Mr. Klimm by what they called a “dysfunctional” council.
The group of six were called alternatively “the Crocker Six” and “the gang of Six.” Town Councilor James H. Crocker Jr. of Osterville, who represents Precinct 5, is seen as the leader of the group seeking to oust Mr. Klimm.
At the June 23 town council meeting, six councilors voted to amend Mr. Klimm’s five-year contract, which extends to 2015, to have it end instead on September 30.
Mr. Klimm sat quietly during the proceedings as several dozen speakers, the line extending around the auditorium, spoke about the contentious town council and lectured them about their behavior.
Many praised Mr. Klimm. A few offered criticisms.
Gary C. Blazis of Marstons Mills, a former town councilor, said that at the meeting of June 23, councilors “made what I believe to be the most destructive vote to our town that I’ve ever seen.”
He demanded to know if the councilors had heard from their constituents that Mr. Klimm should be removed.
Debbra S. Lavoie of Marstons Mills, who works on the town’s Marine and Environmental Affairs department and has lived in town for 50 years, said, “Your disrespect [to Mr. Klimm] is disgraceful.”
She lauded Mr. Klimm for improvements in town over the 11 years he has been town manager.
Mr. Crocker interrupted public comment with a point of order, asking the chairman to require all speakers to say whether they were town employees.
Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis replied that anyone who is a resident of Barnstable is allowed to speak.
Ralph Cahoon of Barnstable Village, a lifelong resident of Barnstable who recently retired from the Barnstable Police Department and is a former chairman of the Barnstable School Committee, suggested the councilors take a “Better Barnstable Government Pledge,” to vow to put the town first and to hold a team-building workshop, perhaps moderated by former Barnstable School Superintendent Patricia Grenier.
Gail T. Maguire of Centerville said she was “shocked and angered” to learn about the vote to remove Mr. Klimm.
“Our town manager is well-liked and the majority feels he’s done an excellent job,” she said.
Romas A. Brickus of Cotuit said the “group of six” had given conservatives a bad name because they said they are fiscally responsible but their plan to remove the town manager is a waste of money.
The amended contract would pay Mr. Klimm $230,000 to buy him out.
But not everyone spoke in support of Mr. Klimm.
John Julius of Hyannis said Mr. Klimm was behind town purchases, like the Hyannis Golf Course, that Mr. Julius said were not prudent.
He also said that Mr. Klimm cannot be credited with the town’s AAA bond rating. He said it is due to the town’s inherent wealth.
Mr. Crocker arrived a few minutes late to last night’s meeting, with two large posters, one of which he displayed in front of the dais, the other elevated behind his seat.
One was an enlarged copy of a letter from Mr. Klimm’s attorney asking the town councilors to contact him if they wanted to discuss Mr. Klimm’s contract.
The other was a copy of an item Mr. Crocker submitted last Friday afternoon to be placed on the agenda: a reaffirmation of the vote to end Mr. Klimm’s term.
Mr. Crocker, who chaired the committee that drew up the early dismissal for Mr. Klimm, said last week that his reason for submitting the item to a re-vote was that he did not think the vote was fair because two councilors were absent.
Mr. Chirigotis said Mr. Crocker’s attempt at what amounts to a reconsideration of the vote was improper and out of order. He did not place it on the agenda.
Mr. Chirigotis said an offer had been extended to Mr. Klimm—a revision to his contract—and the town council needed to wait to see what Mr. Klimm decided to do with the offer.
Mr. Klimm said this week that the contract amendment is being reviewed by his attorney, J. Albert Johnson of Boston, and he had not yet made a decision on whether to sign it.
At the end of the public comment, five of the six councilors who had voted to remove Mr. Klimm gave reasons for their votes.
Town Councilor Ann B. Canedy of Cummaquid in Precinct 1 said, “This is a process I thought was entered into in good faith. I’m naive. I forgot there was a November election.”
She said she has issues with the town manager’s philosophy and his management style.
Ms. Canedy said, “I believe this has become someone’s political agenda and I’m not sure whose.” She added, “I feel really foolish because I feel I’ve been played.”
Town Councilor John T. Norman of Marstons Mills, who represents Precinct 12, said he had received calls averaging 2 to 1 in favor of his vote to terminate the town manager.
He said comments that there is some sort of “cabal” are inaccurate. He said that the councilors who voted to end the town manager’s contract are a minority and so they could not have done it without other councilors’ involvement.
Mr. Crocker said the subcommittee to work on the contract was put together at the request of the town manager and that Mr. Klimm had been involved every step of the way.
“These six are honorable people. These people acted in good faith,” he said.
The truth is people have acted with their own agenda.” Mr. Chirigotis said, “The reality is people need to be accountable for their own conduct and they need to tell the truth. The conduct has been reprehensible.”
Mr. Chirigotis suggested that Mr. Klimm be given until November 15, just after the town election, to decide whether to sign the new contract.
He said he planned to put that before the council at its next meeting.
Town Councilor Richard G. Barry, who is leaving the council because of term limits and has expressed disgust with the political jockeying on the council.
He gave a version of events that began with the annual vote for the council leadership in December. Mr. Barry recalled that Mr. Crocker said, “I need one of my people in there.”
In March, Mr. Crocker was angry over the resignation of the town councilor’s administrator, Donald Grissom, who Mr. Crocker has said is his close friend. Mr. Crocker said Mr. Klimm “is not staying in his lane” on this issue of the administrator, as Mr. Barry told it.
Mr. Barry said his vacation in Puerto Rico was interrupted by Mr. Crocker’s phone calls saying that he had six votes to remove Mr. Klimm and asked Mr. Barry to be number seven. Mr. Barry refused.
Mr. Klimm gave a speech directed pointedly to the people of Barnstable, not the town council.
He said the over the last few months, for the first time in his 55 years as a resident of the town of Barnstable, he has not liked the town. His perennial optimism has been tested, he said.
But he said that the outpouring of support from hundreds of people has been humbling and has given him solace during this most difficult time.
After his comments, he was given a standing ovation from the crowd.
After the comments concerning Mr. Klimm's contract and with the hour approaching 11 PM, the town council set out to accomplish business on the agenda. The council voted unanimously to approve what will be one of the largest solar arrays in Southern New England. The array is to be constructed on the town’s landfill and will generate approximately $300,000 per year in energy.