Cohasset Selectmen “hear” Town Manager Mike Coughlin

“If I had treated my staff the way Mr. Coughlin
has been treated, I wouldn’t have a staff.”

-Coral Grande

Cohasset Town Manager Mike Coughlin’s public hearing to give his side of the story on his pending termination lasted almost five hours. There were over 200 people in the high school media room, with Coughlin supporters in the majority. Selectmen will vote on whether to retain Coughlin or dismiss him next week.

Best Line of the night: Cohasset Selectman Chair Ted Carr, nearing the end of Coughlin’s “trial” by selectmen, said (wincing) that his board had received a letter that very day from the Cohasset Housing Authority who had taken a vote of
NO CONFIDENCE on the board of selectmen.
The crowd applauded wildly.

Best Attorney: Town Manager Mike Coughlin’s attorney, Doug Louison, who told selectmen up front that Coughlin would sue them personally (whistleblower suit for wrongful dismissal) if he didn’t get his job back and that the board had been high-jacked by “certain boards of this town.” The Cohasset Crowd loves Louison. Louison represented now Cohasset Deputy Police Chief Bill Quigley, who as a patrolman won his case against the town big time several years ago. It was a similar case. Quigley had been defamed by town officials, elected and appointed. A hearing quickly proved he was innocent. This hearing seemed to prove the same for Coughlin. He may not win the battle, because his judges are the selectmen, and they are prideful, arrogant and stubborn. But in just six months he won the hearts of the crowd and the community.

There’s an interesting story that circulated throughout the town shortly after Coughlin arrived. Two selectmen took him around town hall to introduce him to town employees, all of whom ended up having to introduce themselves, because the selectmen didn’t know their names.

Town’s Attorneys: They had a difficult client to represent and their presentation was lack-luster. You can understand why attorneys have a high suicide rate – particularly when they have mushrooms for clients.

Atty. Kimberly Saillant of town counsel’s firm questioned Coughlin on a number of issues involved his “poor” communication skills, involving everything from the 2nd amended judgment (another mess in which selectmen find themselves, as only 37 or so homeowners have hooked up out of 130 or so). If Selectman Kennedy was so worried about the judgment and the fines, as Saillant said, why hasn’t the Kennedy family hooked up? The town could soon be experiencing big fines. Saillant said Coughlin dropped the veteran’s agent issue, but he really didn’t, and was going to take the interim job on himself if he couldn’t find an interim. Ultimately, an interim was found. Next, Saillant said Coughlin didn’t communicate with the planning board.

It was sad when Chairman Carr asked Coughlin how the issue of the Mark Brennan happened, because former acting town manager Steve Lombard briefed everyone except maybe Selectman Kennedy on that same issue. Brennan had come through a Greenbush grant and then the grant money was spent. Brennan stayed on and the town paid him piecemeal, through various accounts. Lombard briefed the board, (who have since forgotten), that Brennan had to be treated  legally (vacations, health insurance, etc.) or the IRS would have some problems with the town. Coughlin did write 10 contracts, and told the board exactly how and why they all happened. Too bad they never asked him before it got to this point.

Set Design: This is as weird as the selectmen have ever been. They created a sort of amphitheater of cushioned chairs (in which they sat) in the media room. Coughlin and his attorney and wife refused to sit there with them. Behind the amphitheater selectmen had reserved seats for friends of the selectmen. Selectmen did not display well in their cushioned seats with no tables in front of them. If you know what I mean.

General audience – not those sitting behind or in the amphitheater of cushions: this was and is a well-informed group. They are watchers of Selectmen TV. When Advisory Chair Peter Pescatore said that Coughlin never produced any numbers to back any of his proposals, a woman behind me said: “There were no numbers. The accounting department went south.”

People testifying for and against Coughlin:

-Gary Vanderweil, former sewer commissioner, said Coughlin was not compatible with the board of selectmen or town boards and committees, and that he had been hired by mistake.

-Advisory chair Peter Pescatore, also on the budget planning advisory group,  said Coughlin’s presentations to selectmen and his boards were full of fluff, and his 11-point plan (Coughlin’s survey of the town) showed his intention to escalate spending, not control it.  Also, Pescatore said Coughlin was against level-funding the budget for FY13.

+Patience Towle, chairman of the Paul Pratt Library trustees, who is credited with building a $4.2M library on time and on budget to town, said Coughlin was communicative and enthusiastic in dealing with her board.

-George Chamillard, member of the E-20, Advisory committee and the illegal governance committee, said Coughlin was good with town employees but not with town board and committees, with whom he was “unable to build support.”

+Agnus McCann, a library trustee and retired attorney, said Coughlin had not been in the job long enough to be fired. She asked the board to vote to retain him.

+Frances Collins,  a retired merchant marine, said “There were no coaching sessions, no letters in his file, no (reports of) sexual improprieties, he hasn’t stolen any money. You people need to reexamine this.” Collins said selectmen had not given him a chance to improve and should not “cut him adrift” like this.

+Mary Jill Larson, who moved here 3 years ago, said she was a conflict adviser and resolution counselor and that this issue between selectmen and Coughlin was an issue of role clarity. “The board and Coughlin need to start form the point of who makes decisions.” Selectman Carr invited her to join the illegal governance committee.

-Joe McElroy, now retired veteran’s agent. McElroy said he found it difficult to converse with Coughlin.  Many people say the same thing about Joe, although we have always enjoyed conversing with him.

+Gerde Ordelheide, owner of the Red Lion Inn, and town resident for 25 years, told the board it was their responsibility to oversee the budget.

(double minus) Resident Roy Fitzsimmons said he was upset with all town officials about how they are not handling anything.

SheLee Jenkins, water commissioner, said she was insulted that Attorney Louison had called her a high-jacker. She said Coughlin had disagreed with the commission’s shut-off policy. (When asked about this later, Coughlin said he told commissioners they had to have policies and procedures in place before shutting off water.)

+Karen Quigley, former selectman and leader of the loyal opposition, said the real communication problem in Cohasset was that capital budget and the selectmen didn’t like what Coughlin was communicating, not that he wasn’t communicating. “At all those meetings (of the board of selectmen) I saw disrespect.” Quigley asked the board of selectmen, “When did you decide this?” (to replace Coughlin with now Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski). “If I were Mr. Couhglin, I would not have been able to tolerate the abuse he took from these men who had been my advisors.” Quilgey named Peter DeCaprio, Steve Gaumer and Jack Keniley, all of capital budget, as being particularly abusive to Coughlin. “You set the policy and the tone,” she told selectmen.

+Richard Karoff, a former full member of the conservation commission reduced to associate member by selectmen, said selectmen needed to give Coughlin six more months to prove himself. He added he thought selectmen needed a town administrator, and not a town manager.

+Mary Quill, director of assessors, said she worked closely with Coughlin. “I never had a communication problem.”

+Adrienne MacCarthy, former member of the school committee, quoted a  line from Cool Hand Luke: What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Here is the entire quote:

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can’t reach,
so you get what we had here last week
which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it.
And I don’t like it any more than you men.

Adrienne said: “Now you’ve got a diaglogue open. Take it (the conversation) off side. Come to a meeting of minds.”

+Stuart Ivimey, chairman of the planning board (previous remarks were edited when Ivimey said we misquoted him).  He asked the board, as a private citizen, to retain Coughlin. “I’d rather buy my kids new bicycles than pay $60,000 to $80,000 for attorney’s fees. Mike (Coughlin) has 500 pounds of e-mails – everyone has enormous risk here.

+Jody Doyle, a businesswoman and watcher of Selectmen TV, said she would be distressed if Mike didn’t get a second chance at this job.

+Coral Grande director of elder affairs, said she had nothing to gain by speaking out and everything to lose. “It’s hard to be witness to someone being maligned. I respect all of you…work with so many of you. If I had been judged in the first 6 months of many of my jobs I wouldn’t have had a job any longer.” And then Coral told selectmen: “If I had treated my staff the way Mr. Coughlin has been treated, I wouldn’t have a staff.”

+Al Stefan spoke last. He asked selectmen to keep Coughlin, to keep the checks and balances. “I love it that you don’t like him. Man up!”

© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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  7 comments for “Cohasset Selectmen “hear” Town Manager Mike Coughlin

  1. Mike Coughlin
    March 15, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I agree with Stuart Ivimey comments amd I would much rather returm to my duties at Town Hall in Cohasset rather than to court. Nevertheless, I must take issue with his comment. Perhaps he misinterpreted by statement about the budget. I never meant that I would not work with boards concerning their budget but thought the process must be aligned to conform with standard procedures.

    In the American system of democracy, it is well settled that the executive administrator at the federal, state and local levels introduce the first cut of the budget to the legislative which then formulates a final budget for passage. For example,in Washington- the President introduces a budget to Congress, in Boston- the Governor submits to the State House and in most Towns- the Town Manager/Town Administrator submits to the communities Finance Committee work formulates a budget for passage at Town Meeting.

    In my opinion, part of the reason why no one in town caught the financial imposiion is because the lines of authority of authority and checks and balance got blurred. In this process, the budget and more importantly the financial data that supports it was never properly vetted nor taken apart. It prevents a healthy public debate on the budget and creates the false illusion that those who put the budget and finance data together should be trusted without question.

    Debate is healthy in a democracy. Differences of opinion should be embraced and conversations be held in the opinion. Lets take my differences the other evening with the Chair of the Advisory Committee. Numbers of meaningless unless they are credible. Past administrations submitted numbers but we have all learned the painful truth that those numbers were meaningless. We all want to fiscally responsible but this is based upon fiscal stability which starts with forging a cohesive financial team.

    The lack of adequate financial and administrative staffing overwhelmed our financial departments and led to faulty numbers. The process which merged the formulation of the budget into a singular step removed the system of checks and balances which is vital to scrub the budget and over cover shortcomings. Restoring the budget process in Cohasset to standard practices is an important step in turning the corner.

    Mike Coughlin
    Town Manager

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