Cohasset Questions

So, I have been observing the disintegration of my former hometown’s politics from the outside, albeit still as a taxpayer who’s ticked off at the circus. Sad, deplorable, and since I know many of the players, shocking. If anything, perhaps all of this will finally burst the bubble of Cohasset’s sense of entitlement and exclusiveness – that it is so much different and better than towns around it with their seedy stories in the Ledger. It is not, and whatever side one is on, it is embarassing. Especially the public name-calling.

This being Massachusetts, we unfortunately are given to seeing bad when questionable and possibly wrongful decisions are being made. I hope to be proven wrong, but 27 years in the law and around politics in this state make one a little cycnical. Where there is smoke, there is usually a back room from which it is being blown. Let us not think that local politics cannot be as bad as the cesspool downtown.

What the Cohasset public needs is full openness. (How naive of me!) While official investigations may or may not be underway, and may or may not reveal things, in a perfect world, or through a public records request by anyone willing to foot the likely bill that will be charged as an attempted roadblock, here are some items and questions, provided as if I was doing interrogatories and a document request before a trial, that the public might benefit from seeing and having answered on the 3 issues swirling around – Cat Dam, the Water Commission and what Mike Coughlin has done or not done to be fired (oops not yet – that decision is supposed to made openly and after a fair hearing). The experience from the police disciplinary hearings of 7 years ago suggests we won’t get the full story. By the way, any public record request should include not only e-mails made on one’s Town of Cohasset address, but on private addresses. Don’t know if the AG has ruled on this yet, but an e-mail about public business should be a public record no matter the account used. And believe me, private accounts are used and compliance with the open meeting law seems to be a challenge to most of the players in this saga. Maybe Cohasset will make new law on all this.

On the Cat Dam matter, one would like to see:

1. All written documents and e-mail communication:

a. between the Board of Selectmen (including individual members), the Town Manager, and/or Town Counsel and any agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from the date of the decision of the Conservation Commission to date.

b. amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, the Conservation Commission, employees of Town Counsel and/or other third parties (including but not limited to known members of the group known as the E-20 or that group’s attorneys and agents),  from the date the Conservation Commission  hearing began to date, including anything related to how and why assoc. Town Counsel was instructed to advance the E-20 position as the Town’s position at a recent meeting with DEP (as others have reported did occur).

c. amongst and between any Selectmen and any state government official or legislator or member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party staff , from the date of the filing Conservation Commission decision to date. (Why? Because this IS Massachusetts, and some of our leaders have ties downtown – ask yourself why the BOS didn’t fear a state investigation).

2. Records from the Office of Campaign and Finance regarding donations made to the Selectmen candidates in the last year’s town elections (and the upcoming one).

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© Copyright 2012 Bob Monty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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  3 comments for “Cohasset Questions

  1. peter decaprio
    February 28, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I’ll start with 1) a,b,c,d,e. a) I hope it does come out. You’d be surprised how little there is (especially coming from the Town Manager, except after 2/6/12). But whatever exists is a good read. b) you’d be surprised how little there is here too. But why do you only ask about Aquarion? What about United Water, American Water, Whitewater Inc., Tighe and Bond, Amory Engineers, Woodard and Curran, Weston and Sampson? Do you not care about that communication? Has it ever occurred to anyone here that we are a public utility? Our financials are published, as is our capex plan, debt schedules, etc. Contrary to Coughlin’s delusional rants to the IG, our RFP contains NO specs from Aquarion, whatever those are. Why did the IG let it out? Because it was faulty? The water universe as we see it consists of more names than Aquarion. Is it like a buzz-word with you people? Like Cat Dam? Bear Hill? Halliburton? c) Happy to let these out too. Just get town counsel to give me the word. d) I can’t remember the last time I talked to a Democrat, let alone communicated with one on the state staff. If you find anything, please let me know. I will start self-flagellation immediately. e) this was discussed in a public BofS meeting in November. Perhaps you missed it.

    #2a) I have already disclosed my interest in American Water, which was already vetted by the state ethics commission and dismissed as being insignificant. There is a de minimis hurdle which, as an attorney and former selectman, you should know. I can’t speak for anyone else in town government with respect to American Water. I have no interest in Aquarion and never have. Since they are privately owned, I’m not sure how one could.

    2b) I see you are as confused as most of the people on this site as to the relationships you ask about. My American Water relationship has been fully disclosed previously (let’s not forget that the likely outcome here is that American Water loses this business – I’m trying to figure out how that would benefit me). My relationship with Macquarie, which provided for no remuneration to me, has been discussed at length and ended materially in 2009, and formally in early 2011, long before I was chair of the water commission. Blatman, Brobowski and Mead represented me in a private legal matter in town. They have the second largest municipal law practice in the commonwealth and are recognized experts in the field of procurement law. They currently represent 13 towns as town counsel. It was up to them to determine if they had a conflict in accepting the assignment to represent the water company in the preparation of its RFP. They did, and determined that they had none, in spite of Mr. Coughlin’s attempts to browbeat DeRensis into saying they did. I paid Blatman their full private rate for my personal work, and negotiated a much lower rate on behalf of the water company. We used another reputable firm last year for some special counsel work (without objection from anyone), but found them to be expensive and not responsive. Coughlin needs everyone to believe that there was a conflict, so he keeps spouting off about it even though there is no issue. But you know that too, so your continued interest in the issue is indicative.

    3. I’m glad you asked. Clearly you haven’t been paying attention. Coughlin has been opposed to our concession idea from the get-go. He has used town counsel as his private law firm (hence the huge spike in town legal expense). He has threatened OML violations against virtually every group in town that opposes him on any issue, and that includes the BofS, yet he has followed through on none (I think we all know why). Since he controls the purse strings and payments to DW (there’s a real conflict for you), we could not be certain that he wouldn’t tell DW to oppose the concession on any ground imaginable. So, we simply couldn’t trust them. Coughlin browbeat them into a faulty conclusion on a previous procurement law issue, one in which we had to go to Kopleman for a real opinion on the law. So, DW blows a procurement law issue and is in Coughlin’s pocket. Let’s see. . .hmmm . . . does that sound like a good equation for fair and reasonable legal advice? We were going to need counsel to look over our contract and process. It didn’t matter who we paid. Why not ensure fairness and go outside to a very reputable firm – a firm whose practice is on the rise (oooh, free markets at work! That must be bad!)? Clearly the Fairness Truth Seekers that inhabit this site can understand. I mean, it’s what you are all about, right? Did I mention that whatever happens will need a town meeting vote anyway?

    We felt the need to challenge Coughlin’s interpretation of the 2010 town meeting vote because he consistently misapplied the ruling. Here’s the money quote from DeRensis: “As set forth more fully below, the vote amending the Water Enterprise Fund calls for the Town’s Board of Water Commissioners (“Water Commission”) and the Town Manager to collaborate in overseeing the finances of the Water Enterprise Fund, empowering the Town Manager to share with the Water Commission oversight of all expenditures made from the Water Enterprise Fund, but not general management activities of the Water Department.”

    Mr. Coughlin believed he had the ability to override and veto the decisions of an elected commission and said so repeatedly in emails to me. If you truly believe that to be the case, then you need to reread the town manager act and the town’s bylaws. If you still believe the Town Manager Act trumps all, then you should introduce a motion at town meeting calling for the repeal of the Special Act where it applies to ALL elected commissions and appointed boards and just give the authority to our next Town Manager. You never sat on a board or commission that did business with Mr. Coughlin, so you have no idea of the extent to which he perverted the Act for his benefit. Let’s hope it will all come out. Why was this an issue? How about the frequency by which he tried to illegally reach into the water enterprise fund to take money for town purposes without an appropriation and prior to our retained earnings being certified to the detriment of our customers. Didn’t that happen enough in the past to cause you think the continuation of the same just bad policy? Did you even read the Melanson Heath audit? How about the number of times he incorrectly applied enterprise fund accounting rules, or simply didn’t know them at all, with the impact being big holes in our budget after the fact. I tell you what, when you run the water company, feel free to let your town manager do that. We chose to actually do things by the letter of the law.

    4) Since I am the subject in question, I never heard from ANYONE other than Coughlin that there might be an ethics issue. Care to guess why? Anyone? Bueller? Because there was none and everyone knows it. It’s been one month. Haven’t heard from a soul. You cavalier, sanctimonious, unctuous know-it-alls throw terms around very dangerously and you do it for the reasons he did it: to oppose something you want stopped. You speak from complete ignorance, yet with complete certainty, the very definition of a fool. Defaming someone means nothing to you. Go ahead, believe everything that Coughlin says. Hitch your wagon to him. Lose all credibility. A Selectman Chair never raised the issue – the issue always came from Coughlin, and his allies in this fever swamp of a blog. I have an email from your counsel on the issue. You’d be happy to know that it admonishes your beloved Town Manager and basically tells him to shut up on the issue.

    Re: the Town Manager

    You can get a copy of his complaint. He sent it to everyone except my mother. It reads better than most fiction today. Especially the line about us “hotwiring” the contract to Aquarion. What are you going to do if Aquarion doesn’t even show up to bid or loses to someone else? What if I’m not even on the selection committee and the committee picks Aquarion?

    As for #2 in your second post, we don’t think we are anyone other than people elected to a job. When professional management ever shows up here, I’ll let you know if I feel threatened. But, as a taxpayer, when I see incompetence in all its glory and know that it will likely cost me, I start to pay attention. And do something about it. Must be good to be you from a distance. Thanks for pitching in. Your words of wisdom mean a lot.

    3. I think the Governance Committee is doing precisely that. You might want to attend their meetings and see their good work. Oh, right. Easier just to carp and speak ignorantly.

    4. The financial issues could have been fixed quickly. In fact, before Coughlin chased John Stanbrook away, they were being fixed.

    9. How do volunteers, with big professional and family constraints benefit from needless strife with a four-time loser? Because it’s fun? Get a clue.

    10. The responsible thing is to also admit when there isn’t even the appearance of a conflict. If there is no relationship, where is the conflict?

  2. Callahan
    February 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    The last set of questions are more general about the whole mess:

    1. What degree of vetting and vetting info did the Board of Selectmen have before hiring both the Town Manager and the current Acting Town Manager?

    2. Who do some people on our boards think they are? (Swelled heads in Cohasset?, say it ain’t so!) What part of professional management of the Town threatens them and why?

    3. Has everyone actually read the Town Manager’s Act by now and know what it actually says?

    4. If our “system” before was so wonderful, why did we find ourselves in the budgetary and records mess we were in?

    5. Does someone have compromising photos of someone else, because, gee, what the hell is going on with all of this? Are we missing something?

    6. Ever hear of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission? Would everyone agree to something similar?

    7. Is anyone ready with a draft of the old TM article to put into place a recall process? Never thought I’d support that.

    8. Do not events now finally validate longstanding calls by many to end the separately-elected utility boards, and validate the 2004 MMA and 2010 auditor suggestions to do just that?

    9. As with any political mess at any level of government, ask yourself who is benefitting from the given course of action?

    10. Does everyone appreciate that the standard is not only is there an actual conflict of interest or ethics violation, but the appearance of same?

  3. Callahan
    February 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    More info it would be good to have:

    Re: Water Dept.

    1. All written documents and e-mail communication

    a) between the Board of Selectmen (including individual members), the Water Department, the Water Commission (including individual members), the Town Manager, and/or Town Counsel or Water Dept. Counsel and any agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regarding the proposed RFP , from 8/1/11 to date.

    b) between the Board of Selectmen (including individual members), the Water Department, the Water Commission (including individual members), the Town Manager, and/or Town Counsel or Water Dept. Counsel and Aquarion Water Co. or any other third party regarding the proposed RFP, from 8/1/11 to date.

    c) amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Water Department, the Water Commission, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, employees of Town Counsel and/or other third parties, regarding the proposed RFP, from 8/1/11 to date.

    d) amongst and between any individual Selectmen or Water Commissioner, or combination thereof, and any state government official or legislator or member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party staff regarding the proposed RFP, from 8/1/11 to date.

    e) amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Water Department, the Water Commission, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, employees of Town Counsel, Water Dept. Counsel and/or other third parties, regarding the subject of the 2011 Town Meeting vote placing the Town Manager in co-authority over the water enterprise fund, from 8/1/11 to date.

    2. Probably not reachable by a public record request, but worthwhile knowing and perhaps available through other sources:

    a) who in office on any board or commission has an investment interest in American Water, Aquarion, or the overseas parent.

    b) full disclosure of the relationships amongst and between American Water, Aquarion, the overseas parent company, Water Dept. Counsel and Mr. DiCaprio, through present or past firms or employment.

    3. An explanation as to why the Water Commission felt the need to find counsel to refute and challenge Town Counsel’s opinion as to the validity of the 2011 Town Meeting vote.

    4. An explanation as to why, after the extraordinary event of a Selectmen Chair publicly raising a possible ethics issue about another board’s chair, an investigation by Town Counsel into it was quashed, perhaps over Counsel’s objection?

    Re: the Budget

    All written documents and e-mail communication amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Water Department, the Water Commission, the School Department, the School Committee, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, employees of Town Counsel and/or other third parties, regarding formulation of the upcoming budget and/or Fall 2011 or Spring 2012 town meeting warrants, from 8/1/11 to date.

    Re: the Town Manager

    1. A copy of the Town Manager’s complaint filed with the state Inspector General on or about 2/15/12, including all attachments and back-up documentation.

    2. All evidence the Selectmen intend to introduce at the hearing on March 13.

    3. All written documents and e-mail communication

    a) amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Water Department, the Water Commission, the School Department, the School Committee, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, employees of Town Counsel and/or other third parties, regarding the Town Manager’s performance, assessment of him, evaluation of him and/or efforts to terminate him, from 8/1/11 to date.

    b) amongst and between any combination of members of the Board of Selectmen, the Water Department, the Water Commission, the School Department, the School Committee, the Town Manager, the Advisory Committee, the Capital Budget Committee, the recently constituted town governance committee, employees of Town Counsel and/or other third parties, evidencing the specific grounds cited in the Board of Selectmen’s vote of 2/15/12 to commence termination proceedings against the Town Manager, from 8/1/11 to date.

    c) evidencing the charge of town employee favoritism by the Town Manager, or evidencing alleged threats made against certain employees.

    d) regarding recent personnel changes and the creation of the K-9 unit in the Police Department.

    SEE NEXT POST

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