Updated: And earlier version of this story said Select Board Chair Alex Vispoli read a statement from the entire board. In an email Tuesday morning, Vispoli said “During my introduction to the statement, I misspoke, the statement was from me and not the board. It was my error.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article gave the wrong last name for Andover resident Steve Walther.
Andover Select Board Chairman Alex Vispoli stood behind Town Manager Andrew Flanagan at its meeting Monday, reading a prepared statement after two residents questioned the board about last week’s Department of Labor Relations decision that faulted Flanagan for his role in a labor dispute between Chelmsford and a union representing its police officers.
“The DLR decision does not find the town of Andover or its town manager was at fault for any wrongdoing,” Vispoli said, reading from the statement. “The Andover town manager was not found to have broken any law or rules of the joint labor management committee.”
At the meeting, Vispoli said the statement was from the entire board. But in an email Wednesday morning, Vispoli said he had misspoke. “During my introduction to the statement, I misspoke, the statement was from me and not the board,” he said. “It was my error.”
Last week’s decision said Flanagan played a central role in a labor dispute where the town of Chelmsford “acted in bad faith” during contract arbitration with the union representing its police officers and “mislead” Chelmsford town meeting before it voted to reject the 2019 arbitration decision. The ruling said Flanagan, in his role as a volunteer member of a three-member arbitration panel, gave town officials updates on the panel’s deliberations, shared drafts marked confidential and signed a dissenting opinion that had been signed by Chelmsford town counsel.
“Now he is the former Chelmsford town counsel. Our town manager, Andrew Flanagan, participated in everything. How come he isn’t our former town manager?” Kathy Grant, an Andover resident, asked the board during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Why would we trust hm to negotiate with our Andover unions? Why would we think the unions would think he would act in bad faith? Why do we want a town manager who commits fraud?”
Previously on Andover News: Flanagan Faulted In Labor Board Ruling Against Chelmsford
Grant said she asked Vispoli to put the decision on the agenda for Monday’s meeting at the Robb Senior Center, but never received a response.
“So far, since this has not been on the agenda, the way Andrew Flanagan and the select board that oversees him has been behaving as if this is a small mistake or normal behavior. They do not treat it like you’re breaking labor laws over months. They’re not treating it as if it was unethical and a lack of integrity. It’s more like ‘It’s unfortunate Andrew Flanagan got caught, hopefully he’ll learn and not get caught next time, and if we leave it off the agenda, hopefully it will fly under the radar”
Steve Walther, another resident who addressed the issue in the public comment portion of the meeting, said Flanagan “polluted the town of Chelmsford” over a period of months and called on the board to take disciplinary action against Flanagan.
“This wasn’t a bad decision on a bad day. This was a series of bad decisions over a period of months, and it constitutes a pattern of deception and fraud,” Walther said. “There needs to be action to be taken….what we have here is someone who conducted serial fraud, plagiarism…For the select board to sweep this under the rug is wrong. I don’t think the select board should be abetting this action.”
Flanagan did not make any comment, nor did any of the other board members apart from Vispoli, who read the prepared statement after asking both Grant and Walther to bring their comments to a conclusion. Vispoli’s statement is published in its entirety at the end of this article.
Long-Running Dispute Between Chelmsford, Union
Flanagan was a volunteer and lone dissenter on the three-member panel chosen by DLR to arbitrate the contract. The ruling says Flanagan had regular contact with Chelmsford town counsel, who was not identified by name in the ruling, throughout the proceedings in 2018 and early 2019, sharing draft decisions that were marked “confidential” and ultimately signing a dissenting opinion that had been written by the town counsel.
The ruling concludes Chelmsford “acted in bad faith when Town Counsel engaged in ex-parte communications with Flanagan.” It also forces Chelmsford to resubmit the $108,531 arbitration award to town meeting for reconsideration.
While the New England Police Benevolent Association Local 20 filed the complaint against the town and the ruling does not directly accuse Flanagan of wrongdoing, his role in the matter is outlined in minute detail culled from testimony, text messages and emails reviewed by DLR hearing officer Sara Skibski.
In an email last week, Flanagan noted his dissent did not change the panel’s ultimate decision in favor of the union and his conduct “did not violate any state law.”
“My dissenting vote on the JLMC [Joint Labor Management Committee] award did not change the outcome of the award,” Flanagan said. “At no point, did I participate in any plan or take any action to influence Chelmsford’s Town Meeting.”
The dissent signed by Flanagan ultimately led the Chelmsford Finance Committee to recommend the Feb. 4, 2019 special town meeting not approve the contract that had been approved by the arbitration panel over Flanagan’s dissent. After finance committee members shared copies of the dissent, Chelmsford Special Town Meeting rejected the pact 89-26, with 5 abstentions, according to the ruling.
“Well that went well I suppose,” Flanagan said in a text message to Chelmsford town counsel after the special town meeting on Feb. 4, 2019.
“I am not unhappy with the result,” Chelmsford town counsel responded. “Apparently, there was significant discussion about your dissent.”
Andover Select Board’s Complete Statement on Andrew Flanagan
“The Andover Select Board is aware of the recent decision issued by the Massachusetts Department of [Labor Relations] related to a dispute between the Chelmsford Superior Officers Association and the town of Chelmsford. The board has been aware of this matter for approximately three and a half years.
“The decision is reflective of a labor dispute in the town of Chelmsford, not in the town of Andover. Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan served in a volunteer capacity as a management representative for Chelmsford joint labor relations management committee and served in a capacity consistent with established practices. This matter has received attention because of a dispute between the town of Chelmsford and the Chelmsford Superior Officers Association and because of the events at the 2019 Chelmsford special town meeting.
“The DLR decision does not find the town of Andover or its town manager was at fault for any wrongdoing. The matter was filed against the town of Chelmsford and the decision was based on action against Chelmsford town officials. To reiterate, the Andover town manager was not found to have broken any law or rules of the joint labor management committee. Thank you.”