EGREMONT -- Finance Committee member Kevin Zurrin was removed from his position Monday for allegedly making defamatory comments about town employees in an email and via a blog.
Zurrin was removed in a 3-1 vote with one abstention during a contentious hearing at the Egremont Town Hall on Monday that was packed with townspeople vocalizing their disapproval of the committee's decision.
In a mass email sent back in February, Zurrin appeared to accuse employees of the Egremont Water Co. of possible theft, saying that anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 was missing.
In a February 2013 post on his blog, "Eyes on Egremont," Zurrin said the town's incoming auditor, Daniel Haynes, had a "very questionable past" and was in the "Attorney General's crosshairs."
Two other charges brought against Zurrin by the committee, possible harassment of Water Department employees and appearing to step out of the authority vested in the Finance Committee and conducting his own investigation, were dropped by the hearing's chairman, Charles Flynn, due to lack of evidence.
"The charges against him are completely fallacious," said Richard Allen, an Egremont attorney who represented Zurrin during the hearing. "It's a direct attack on the freedom of the press."
Both sides were entitled to counsel. Attorney Jeremia Pollard represented the Finance Committee. Allen was left to stand at the front of the room since there were no more seats left. On several occasions, heated debates occurred between Allen and Flynn, and Allen and Pollard. Egremont Police officers hovered nearby.
After an hourlong meeting that even postponed a scheduled Select Board meeting, committee members Flynn, Tom Gage and Michael Bandzierz voted to remove Zurrin from the committee. Jonathan Beattie voted no, and Mary Brazie abstained because she was one of the people mentioned in the email.
"In light of the fact that he did make the statements -- and I think they're defamatory -- I'm going to vote removal," said Gage, who was also the moderator.
The decision was met with scorn by the large crowd, who booed the Finance Committee. During the hearing, the large crowd of townspeople yelled out questions or comments, and even an occasional insult.
"Townspeople needed to know because for the most part everything's been shuffled into a report and put in somebody's desk and nobody reads it," Zurrin said after the committee's decision. "So I was kind of forcing the issue with the townspeople."
"I feel like I could have done it better," Zurrin said. "But do I feel that I was wrong? No."
As townspeople filed out, several jokes were heard being made about moving out of Egremont or being too afraid to question Egremont town leaders.
"I think they shut him out," said Andrea Wolfland, an Egremont resident. "I read everything again before I came out here. He never said anything about theft."
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