Cohasset Selectmen’s Race

by Tom Callahan

I was just re-reading my post of last May celebrating Mrs. Gjesteby’s election to the BOS. Unfortunately, over this past year she was, in fact, isolated, and worse; regretably predictable from two of her colleagues, disappointing and unfortunate from the other two. But now we have another election and the referendum that began with her election continues.

We have 5 candidates, and thanks to the fact that the Globe South Weekly section was not afraid to ask the controversial question, we know where everyone clearly stands on the singular issue of the day. That question is the continuance in office of Mr. Milanoski. Of the 5 candidates, we have 3 for and 2 against.  (With one pro-Milanoski Selectman not running for re-election, the cynic in me does not believe it to be any accident that 3 pro candidates are in this race. Lots of recruiting on both sides was going on). Shame on the Mariner for not asking tough questions in its Question of the Week – and I criticized and debated the Mariner on its Facebook page about that – and here’s hoping the Our Town debate questioners will ask some. The future of Mr. Milanoski is the key issue from which all others, such as the now controversial selection process for the next police chief, flow.

In considering the candidates, here are the real questions I think need asking:

  • Do you support continuing having Mr. Milanoski in his position, or should the TM position be immediately put out to bid? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the town should continue to be run by a small, largely unelected behind-the-scenes cabal, namely all or certain members of the Governance Committee, Advisory Committee, Capital Budget Committee and Budget Planning Group, with the Acting Town Manager, then presenting major policy decisions to the BOS as almost fait accomplis?
  • Do you support changes to the Town Manager Act because of legitimate points raised after 15 years in practice or to further a longstanding agenda of those who have opposed the position’s existence since its inception, and who think they know better than professional municipal management? Do you in fact want to see a retreat from professional management that the TM Act brought?
  • Can you separate the powers and duties of town manager as they presently exist from the personalities and capabilities of the person holding the position at a given time, and not throw out the baby with the bath water?
  • Were you in any way distrubed by the seating arrangements at Mr. Coughlin’s dismissal hearing? (speaks to the perception of the current power structure)
  • Do you appreciate the distinction between who is the chief executive officer, who is the chief administrative officer and what a mere advisory-type committee is?
  • Do you believe in having the budget publically vetted on BOS broadcasts at something other than the last minute, with meetings after midnight?
  • Do you approve of how the Police Dept. has been managed since the departure of Chief Hussey (i.e. this question is a wide-ranging referendum on Chief DeLuca, his selection, his departure, and current leadership), and do you approve of the current thinly-veiled attempt for naming a new chief?
  • How, in fact, do you want the town policed (as to patrols, traffic stops, zero tolerance on teenage issues, etc.)?
  • How would you address the OT issues in the two public safety departments?
  • What is your position on ranks in the two public safety departments? Do titles matter?
  • What are your views about morale in town hall and the public safety departments, and do you care?
  • Do you still have a bad taste in your mouth about the ConComm coup d’etat? Understanding the Selectmen’s prerogative on appointments, are you nevertheless troubled by the coordinated campaign to name its replacements by a certain group with a vested interest in a pending decision? Do you believe that how a town should operate?
  • What should be the criteria for appointment, re-appointment and terms for the semi-independent, quasi-judicial permitting boards?
  • Do you agree with the attempt to change town counsel?
  • Do you agree with the now-common practice of not seeking or outright ignoring the advice of town counsel?
  • Do you agree with the now at least twice-employed practice (both times in connection with the new ConComm) of denying a town board use of town counsel to defend a decision, and instead employing private counsel of an interested and connected party or otherwise providing no defense just to satisfy the interests of a connected party?
  • Do you agree with electing those who actively or tacitly benefit from vitriolic behind-the-scenes e-mail campaigns as were employed against Ms. Quigley in the 2011 election? Is that a political atmosphere you approve of in a small town? Will you publicly disavow such tactics if they happen, even if they inure to your benefit?
  • Do you support Martha Gjesteby? Do you believe she has been treated fairly by the Acting TM and her BOS colleagues?
  • Are you concerned about the cost and management of the Senior Center project and what will you do if it goes over budget?
  • And, of course, my old faves – do you agree with abolishing the separately elected water and sewer commissions, and in consolidating all finance-related, subservient, advisory committees into a Finance Committee, the model of choice for most towns?

Yes, these are past issues, in large part. However, one cannot predict the future (the Sr. Ctr. going over budget might be one) and so we must judge on how someone feels about these policy issues and decisions as a predicter of future decision-making. These are the criteria I will employ, and as such, even if there is no agreement on every point, I will be supporting Karen Quigley and Russ Bonnetti. I urge you to do so as well and continue what began in last year’s election. Perhaps with the end of their terms and possible re-election campaigns in 2014, and their recent re-awakenings to the reality they put in the TM chair, with Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Koed we could have a Board 5-0 in favor of open government, directed by themselves as sole chief executive authority and policy maker, who will keep the current, usually excellent, town counsel, who will put the town manager position out to immediate bid open to not only the recycled candidates from elsewhere, but other qualified people (and yes, full disclosure, I have an axe to grind on that point), despite what lawsuit might follow, and who will set a new tone and chain of command in the BOS-TM relationship, one that was employed and evident during most of the prior 15 years of the TM position. (I am talking about the working relationship and the appreciation of each side’s role and position, not each past TM’s ultimate cause for downfall).

More importantly, I have not seen the town so divided and somewhat mean-spirited in my 28 years here. I would be naïve to believe that at any point in the history of this town or those around us that there are not now, or have been in the past, invisible puppet-masters behind the throne. But today, it is just so brazen. And decisions are being made that I truly believe are not in the town’s best interests and which are leading and will lead to problems, lawsuits by those scorned by the current power structure just being one. Many will counter that the current leadership has led us back from the financial disaster of a couple of years ago. I won’t suggest that anyone could not have turned around such a mess, although it wasn’t rocket science, but I will suggest that many of the geniuses now taking credit were on the same or other boards when this all happened, yet take no responsibility. And they further continue to defend a structure of government, in particular a separately elected and unaccountable Water Commission, that led to the mess. No, I prefer to give credit to Interim Town Manager Lombard and former Town Manager Coughlin, whose only sins were trying to shake up a power structure and way of doing business, perhaps indelicately, the backlash of which embodies our current administration and behind-the-scenes puppet-mastering.  To just focus on the smaller point for the moment, let us remember that Water and Sewer each led to financial messes in the ‘90s, and given that the essential structure has not changed, they will inevitably do so again unless they are changed. What has been changed is one step only. The people in power up front or behind the scenes either weren’t here to appreciate that history or they conveniently ignore it, and as is the case in most local town government around here, they count on you not paying attention. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. One would have thought Martha’s election may have disabused them of the latter notion, but they need to hear it again.

I don’t for the life of me suggest that the Board as I would like to see it constituted will be perfect. Reflecting back again on that article of last May, I noted how I voted for Ms. Kennedy. In the past, I have voted for Mr. Koed, and served with him with positive memories of that time. I have been deeply disappointed by them both in their blind defense of Mr. Milanoski (until very recently) and their treatment of Mrs. Gjesteby, although in agreement on some particular issues. I suspect that Ms. Quigley and Mr. Bonnetti will disappoint at times. I have no illusions that past problems will re-surface to be confoundingly debated ad nauseum once again like they were brand new.  (I had to laugh when at a BOS meeting I was at a couple of weeks ago when police and fire OT was discussed. The conversation was exactly the one we had when I was on the BOS 15 years ago. Newsflash! – we returned the FD to 24 people, OT went down some, but was not eliminated. Adding bodies won’t end OT. It all has to do with desired manning and de facto minimum manning policies, larger policy issue of what is the appropriate level of personnel our town requires that needs to be fully debated and understood, as they were back then but are not now, at least not at the BOS level).

What I do see in the BOS I envision is at least the hope, and that’s all we can get is a hope, not a guarantee, for open, accountable, professional and capable government, that represents all the town and not just one little corner of it, that will respect town employees while not giving away the store, that won’t play favorites and settle scores, and that may get us off the newspaper pages as a laughing stock, as we are now widely perceived. Once again, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

© Copyright 2013 Tom Callahan, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed

  2 comments for “Cohasset Selectmen’s Race

  1. April 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    One more point I forgot to make, Tom.
    The April 22 Annual Town Meeting and May 11th elections are to a great extent about the professional management of the town, not about any particular person.

    Do we want our police chief to have professional qualifications?

    Do we want our town manager to have prepared to become a town manager, to have worked in a municipality as a town manager, an assistant to the mayor, an assistant to a town manager? Further, do we want that person to have a degree in public adminisration, a master’s in public administration? I think we do.

    If the Town Manager Act Amendment passes at the April 22 Annual Town Meeting we will be opening up the job to all the selectmen’s friends at town hall. The position will become a political football.

  2. April 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    I watched the Our Town Duo interviews of acting town manager Mike Mialnoski and selectman candidate Karen Quigley and I can tell you the questions were tough. I was squiggling in my chair as I watched them answer.

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