Attorney Steve Triffletti walked into Tuesday’s Select Board meeting for what he thought would be a “housekeeping matter.”

Instead, he ran into unanimous opposition from the five-member board, which told him he could no longer represent clients before town committees.  

Triffletti, who is also the town moderator, had come in to ask the Select Board to ratify that he is a “special municipal employee,” meaning that is exempt from a state law that bars town employees from representing clients before town boards. Triffletti is considered a town employee. He receives an annual stipend of $2,000 for his moderator role.

“There’s no conflict when the moderator, as well as other town officials in this town, appear before other boards and committees that are not the bodies for which they have responsibility,” Triffletti argued.

Triffletti said that in 1992, after he was first elected town moderator, he received an exemption from what was then the Board of Selectmen that allowed him to act as an attorney for clients who had business before local boards. 

“We want to encourage everyone in the town to remain involved and active in the town and to not be deterred from serving on a board or committee or serving as an elected official,” he said in explaining the need for such an exemption.

But Select Board members on Tuesday evening were not sympathetic to his reasoning.

“Respectfully, you articulated why it would be in your interest, but I’m still unclear as to why it would be in the interest of Plymouth to have the moderator appear in the manner you described in front of this board for a liquor license or in front of the Planning Board in any capacity,” vice chair Kevin Canty said. “We have received complaints about it in the past.”  

Triffletti recently represented Planning Board member Birgitta Kuehn when she unsuccessfully tried to prevent that board from removing her as its representative on the Community Preservation Committee. He was not allowed to speak at the hearing that resulted in Kuehn’s ouster.

Triffletti acknowledged that there was a recent complaint filed against him with the state Ethics Commission for representing someone before a local board. He did not provide specifics to the Select Board and after the meeting, he declined to say whether the complaint was related to his representation of Kuehn.  

The town clerk’s office confirmed that its database showed the office of moderator had been designated as a special municipal employee, according to Triffletti, but it was unable to find backup documentation. As a result, Triffletti said, he decided to go before the Select Board so it could ratify the designation. 

Town Manager Derek Brindisi told the board that the state Ethics Commission did not have the Plymouth town moderator position listed in its database as a special municipal employee. He added that a search of meeting minutes of prior Select Boards did not come up with any board appointing the moderator as a special municipal employee.  

Brindisi added that the search did find that in 1998, the town submitted to the state a list of positions designated as special municipal employees. Town Moderator was not on the list, he said.

“I probably wouldn’t have had that on my list because my research didn’t go back that far,” said former town clerk Laurence Pizer, who created that list. “But I still think that probably, as of right now, that position qualifies as a special municipal employee.”

By “that far,” Pizer meant 1963, when the Select Board made the town moderator a special municipal employee.

Board member Harry Helm said he had a list of 79 employees designated by the Select Board as special municipal employees since 1963, and that only once was the town moderator listed – in 1963.

Helm said that designation was invalid now because it named a person, not the position itself.

Pizer disagreed.

“Probably, as of right now, that position qualifies as a special municipal employee,” he said.

But the Select Board did not see it that way.

“It’s out of control,” Helm said of the practice of allowing town employees to represent people in matters before town committees. “It is not good government to do this.”

Board member Charlie Bletzer agreed.

“I just don’t think it’s a good look seeing a town employee representing a party against the Town of Plymouth,” he said.

“It’s not good government to do this,” said Select Board member Harry Helm. Credit: (File photo by Wes Ennis)

Chair Richard Quintal proposed that at a future meeting, the board review all designations of special municipal employees. Brindisi said his staff would propose new rules for the board’s consideration.

The board then voted unanimously that the town moderator not be granted special municipal employee status.  

“I don’t agree with it,” Triffletti told the Independent. “I think that it’s misguided. We want to encourage people to participate in town government even if they’re actively involved in other areas of the community. The refusal to approve special municipal employee designations could have a chilling effect on many people when they consider running for office.”

Triffletti said the board’s decision would not deter him from continuing to serve as town moderator.

Fred Thys can be reached at

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