A New Year for Cohasset Editorial

In 1997 ten citizens asked annual town meeting for a professional Town Manager.

In the citizens’ desire to “sell” the Town Manager Act to citizens and town officials alike, we decided to make him as easy to get rid of as possible. We said in our 1997 petition article that selectmen could fire the town manager for no cause. They may just not like the color of his hair, may not like his eyebrows. The article passed and for the past 15 years we’ve barely given it a second thought.

What happened, and we didn’t realize this until last summer, is that the Attorney General saw our wordage after Town Meeting voted it and changed it to make it legal. In 1997 then Attorney General Scott Harshbsarger said the Town Manager has more employment rights than you have given him. Harshbsarger dropped the “no cause” clause letting (J) stand alone.

(J)        Said Board of Selectmen, by a majority vote may remove the Town Manager. At least 30 days before such removal shall be effective, the Board of Selectmen shall file a preliminary written resolution with the Town Clerk setting forth in detail the specific reasons for the proposed removal, a copy of which resolution shall be delivered to the Town Manager.  (In brief, the Town Manager wasn’t just a stooge, he had legal rights.)

The reason former town manager Mike Coughlin is suing the Town of Cohasset is because Selectmen did not do any of the above. They told Coughlin they were suspending him for no cause. But they were looking at a 1997 citizen’s petition draft article, not even our finished article, and not Attorney General Scott Harshbarger’s fix.

Early last year former select chair Ted Carr and his gang called Coughlin to a selectmen’s meeting and told him they were suspending him with pay. I reported in a 2.15.12 blog Selectmen voted 5-0 to suspend Coughlin with pay adding that it is proceeding to exercise its contract right for removal without cause. In addition to the Whistleblower claim and the actions of Cohasset Water Commissioner Peter DeCaprio, Coughlin’s lawsuit is stating that since the “no cause” clause is unenforceable. Coughlin was let go illegally and the town must honor the rest of the contract – term and pay – that remain intact.

Now, here is the beauty of all of this. Selectmen were not using town counsel at the time. It was only when Coughlin said he wanted a public hearing that town counsel entered stage right and tried to cover Selectmen’s very big gaff. Had they utilized super town counsel Paul DeRensis at the beginning, the Coughlin issue may have been handled legally.

At Coughlin’s $60,000 pubic hearing Selectmen arrived with charges against Coughlin. He wasn’t communicating with them. He didn’t return a couple of phone calls and some other stuff. But all of this was much too late. They had already violated his rights. All of them.

Cohasset spent $57,000 on lawyers when it fired Coughlin last spring. And it paid $34,800 to investigate former police chief Mark DeLuca. It also paid DeLuca $2,500 a week to stay home from May through January of 2013…

Approximately $80,000.  How much did we pay attorneys to undo all those horrible contracts Coughlin wrote with tried and true town employees? Plenty. The real cost of retaining an untrained, unqualified Acting Town Manager is more than you will ever know because it is buried everywhere.

Late last summer I realized that the Governance committee had been meeting since December 2011 on the wrong Town Manager’s Act. They were using a draft, not even a final draft, of the citizen’s 1997 petition article. I first realized it when I started attending Governance meetings in July-August. Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski was the first chairman of the group. Is it possible that Milanoski was not aware of the actual Town Manager’s Act under which he was serving? Milanoski’s current contract contains a section stating that he can be let go for “no cause.” Town counsel did not write Milanoski’s contract.  It’s highly likely Mialnoski wrote it himself.

To date, town counsel has never appeared before Governance to address any of their deliberations or suggested changes or questions. Governance has been led by Select Chair Paul Carlson and Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski. Early last fall when this writer suggested Governance contact the Department of Revenue, a recommendation made by former town manager Mike Coughlin in this blog, the committee did so and became somewhat more enlightened.

Milanosoki is quoted in a Boston Globe article by Johanna Seltz about Cohasset’s legal budget problems saying the town will in the future be more selective about which cases it chooses to defend. He also stated that he personally is restricting access to town’s legal counsel in hopes of cutting costs, and is urging town boards and committees to use free services provide by the state. Exactly what state department would that be that is willing to act as Cohasset’s legal counsel? From what distant star did this guy come from? Further, Milanoski cannot legally deny any elected town board from using town counsel.

Milanoski also stated that former police chief Mark DeLuca had promised not to sue the town after his contract ends in January 2-013.  Promising not to sue anybody is unenforceable unless you pay them trillions of dollars, and even if you pay them trillions of dollars. I.e., DeLuca may discover that Milanoski did not have the power to fire him under his little February letter contract; a second illegal town manager contract was not signed until June 26.

The Globe’s Seltz reported to date that the town has spent almost $350,000 on legal fees last fiscal year. We bet Milanoski’s holding another $200,000 in abeyance. New legal problems. Selectman Martha Gjesteby has found it necessary to hire an attorney to protect herself from the selectmen and their illegal town manager. It is likely the Town counsel will have to hire special counsel to deal with this issue. Gjesteby has several things going here including a potential whistleblower suit. It should be noted that selectmen ambushed Gjesteby during an illegal executive session where the subject not posted was Gjesteby herself. The illegal town manager and the members of his board think Gjesteby released confidential information to the “general (sic) public,” but in fact she confided in a local attorney who further advised her to seek her own counsel. Gjesteby did what she did this out her concern over the actions of her board and its illegal town manager.

Something has to change Cohasset’s trajectory into a black hole.  Maybe that will be town elections, maybe that will be the board of selectmen itself when they vote to advertise for an experienced and qualified town manager.

One thing we know. This ain’t no way to run a town.

© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed