TRURO — Heeding the advice of town counsel, the select board voted unanimously on Oct. 10 to dismiss the investigation into vice chair Sue Areson’s alleged violation of the town charter.
“I think that the board took the most cautious approach in making this step to investigate,” Town Counsel David Jenkins of KP Law told the board. “However, in the absence of an actual complainant, it’s my recommendation that the investigation at this point be terminated.”
The board had voted to launch the investigation almost three months earlier, but the effort never really got off the ground.
On June 13, the board received a letter from attorney Adam T. Dupuy alleging that Areson had violated three sections of the town charter through acts related to the pending renewal of Town Manager Darrin Tangeman’s contract. Dupuy wrote that he represented a registered Truro voter who wished not to be named “out of fear of retaliation.”
His client’s claim, the lawyer wrote, was that Areson had violated the charter by conducting unauthorized investigations of the town manager, exercising individual authority as a select board member that she did not have, and dealing directly with town staff when the communications should have gone through the town manager.
The board’s initial debate on whether to pursue an investigation was contentious. At issue was how to interpret a select board policy on anonymous complaints, which reads: “It shall be the customary policy of the Select Board to not respond to anonymous complaints or communications.”
Town Counsel Jenkins said he did not believe the allegation constituted an anonymous complaint. “I advised the board at that time that, in my opinion, this complaint was not truly anonymous in that there was an identifiable person who could verify and stand behind the complaint,” he told the select board on Oct. 10. He recommended that the board not ignore the complaint.
On June 28, the select board voted 3 to 2 to proceed with an independent investigation into Areson’s conduct. At that point, Jenkins initiated a series of communications with Dupuy, he said.
“I placed a number of calls to him,” and Dupuy responded at least once, Jenkins said, though the two were unable to connect. “I became concerned regarding the passage of time in light of the importance of this to the town and, frankly, to Sue and was anxious to move it along,” Jenkins said. “But I wanted to verify that there actually was a complainant before I formally retained the investigators. I thought that that was best practice and most efficient for the town’s resources.”
Jenkins said he emailed Dupuy several times in July and ultimately had “an exchange in which I indicated that it was necessary for the complainant to reveal him or herself.” On July 31, Dupuy responded that the complainant wished to remain anonymous, Jenkins said.
On Aug. 2, Jenkins let Dupuy know that, in the absence of a verified complainant, he would recommend that the town cease the investigation.
Because Areson was traveling, Jenkins said, they decided to wait until she was back in town before taking further action.
Lauren Goldberg of KP Law agreed with Jenkins’s advice that the investigation should come to a close, adding that the charter is difficult to enforce.
Town charters “are meant to be more aspirational, big picture, more like a constitution than like a bylaw,” she said. “Under these circumstances, there really is not much left for the board to do, and it would be appropriate to terminate the investigation.”
Board member Bob Weinstein’s motion to cease the investigation was unanimously approved.
Weinstein had been one of the initial supporters of investigating Areson along with board chair Kristen Reed and member Stephanie Rein. Clerk John Dundas and Areson herself were opposed.
In a comment after the board’s decision to drop the investigation, Areson again denied any wrongdoing. “It’s nonsense,” she said. “I’m very sorry that the town and I spent legal money on this.”
Areson told the Independent on Monday that she hasn’t received a final bill yet, but so far the amount she has paid in legal fees is more than her annual salary as a member of the select board. The salary of a select board member for fiscal 2024 is $6,000. “It would be very interesting to know how much the town spent on this,” she said.
A GoFundMe organized by Stephen Briscoe, a real estate broker in Truro, had raised money for Areson’s legal fees. The campaign raised $5,775 of its $15,000 goal, but some of that money was donated anonymously and therefore cannot be used.
“I hope that this is the absolute end,” Areson told the Independent this week, adding that “the town has so many other things to focus on.”