Frustrated by selectboard’s behavior in town manager debate

Like many people in town, I felt frustrated and disappointed after watching last week’s informational meeting regarding the town administrator/town manager debate. I was frustrated at the selectboard’s lack of preparation to actually answer questions and disappointed at the way they attempted to silence public voices. I’m grateful for their apology at this week’s second meeting. Although I’m still a little disgruntled about what I perceive to be purposefully obtuse behavior, I’m glad we had so many people involved in the discussion.

Interestingly, I’m actually working on three bills in my committee right now that concern ethics and accountability. One deals specifically with municipal ethics and would do two things: require municipal officers to take and adhere to a statewide, uniform code of ethics oath and require them to complete ethics training once they are elected. Another bill has a lot of components, but the relevant one here is establishing a process by which people can register complaints with the State Ethics Commission regarding their municipal officials, and those complaints could be tracked and investigated; it also establishes a process for resolving these issues.

Serving on a municipal board, committee or commission is essentially a volunteer position that is time-consuming, complicated and generally thankless. I appreciate our local government so much, and even in the challenging times, I don’t perceive anyone’s actions as malicious or ill-intentioned. Others might feel differently, though, which is why I think it’s a terrific idea to have an impartial body to listen to these complaints, offer advice to people on how to proceed if they do think an ethical violation has occurred and offer a path to resolution. The State Ethics Commission would be charged with hearing these matters, offering advice and helping community members figure out if there’s an actual violation happening, or if they’re just mad or upset.

This helps in lots of ways, but most importantly: it gives a level of protection and a layer of clarity to municipal governing bodies, and it gives community members a way to express and resolve their concerns. It’s not intended to set up a gotcha system for municipal volunteers, nor is it meant to be a Fesitvus-style airing-of-grievances situation. It also provides whistleblower protection for folks who have complaints, in order to alleviate the fear of retaliation.

I really enjoy coming up with philosophical soundbites and then repeating them ad nauseam, which my children love dearly and so do my friends and family. I think this one applies to governing, educating, coaching, parenting and managing people in any capacity: Set clear expectations, specifically define what the consequences are should those expectations not be met and then consistently follow through with those consequences if need be.

In order to trust our government, from the most local offices to the president, we need to have confidence in the way in which it operates and the standards to which it holds itself and to which we can hold it. Conversely, if we want to keep talented, smart and passionate people invested in the management of our communities, they need to know that they can be safe to make choices on our behalf, and that if they do misstep, it’s not the end of the world, but an opportunity for all of us to learn and make better choices.

I’m going to put this part at the end in the hopes that everyone stopped reading earlier: the property tax issue is at the top of my mind, believe me. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a lot of information for you about how this is all going to pan out, but I’ll admit fully that earlier in the year when I told you that our property taxes weren’t going to go up that much, I unintentionally misled you. I was repeating information that I was given, and now after the fact, I’m realizing I should have said what I’m going to say now.

Our property taxes will rise, possibly significantly. (If you pay your property taxes based on your income, it will still only have an impact if your income changes.) Our school budget will also probably have to be re-done. I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon and as of this morning, they were still working on drafting some legislation to remedy the issue, which, when it’s done, will move pretty quickly through the Statehouse. I will do my best to keep you all apprised of the situation in as timely a manner as I can.

Please be in touch any time; 917-887-8231.