Our Town interviews Cohasset Selectman Candidates

Our Town Host Mark DeGiacomo asked some very tough questions of the four candidates for the Cohasset Board of Selectmen and their comments were insightful.  This program should be required viewing for voters. Check http://www.cohasset143.org for schedule.

On May 11 Cohasset voters will be able to choose two of the four persons who are presenting themselves for voters’ scrutiny. All four have an interesting array of municipal experience.

DeGiacomo’s first question to Capital Budget Chair Steve Gaumer, Selectman Leland Jenkins, former selectman Karen Quigley and Russ Bonetti, chair of the Cohasset Preservation Committee was whether the current acting town manager should be hired as permanent town manager.

Gaumer called the way selectmen did things with regard to hiring the acting town manager a haphazard process. “Process is the core of a good, predictable government. A fair number of taxpayers felt we didn’t produce the best result.  It led to fights over town manger act revisions that were long necessary.” He believes that even in the instance of an emergency, other contenders for acting town manager should have been included.  He said he would support the acting town manager as one of the candidates, should an advertisement for town manager be forthcoming.

Jenkins said after the town manager was terminated, the town had no leadership and that it was important for selectmen to find someone quickly, as “stability is an important thing in these small towns.” Jenkins said many people were asked to do the job but only Mike Milanoski volunteered. “After a few months we realized this person could do the job. The town was in turmoil; we had four town managers in a year and a half.  It was too disruptive.” If re-elected Jenkins said he would advertise for other town managers and would only hire Milanoski if he were the best-qualified candidate.

Quigley told Our Town that it was inexcusable for the selectmen to fire former town manager Mike Coughlin without a leadership plan in place. She advised that any number of retired town managers would have been available to come back and serve the town on an interim basis. “The process failed at the very beginning,” she said, adding that the process continued to fail when the board continued on, extending and renewing Milanoski’s contract. Quigley said she would not support the acting town manager for the permanent position.

Bonetti noted that a lot of problems were caused because of the way former town manager Mike Coughlin was let go. He agreed with Quigley that there should have been interviews. He said the acting town manager had caused a lot of friction. “He would make a good assistant town manager.” Bonetti said he believe a search should be done. “If after the screening process he is deemed qualified, I would consider him. (But) it’s important for the town to go through the process. Bonetti noted that the acting town manager volunteered for the job, “and then a year later he’s making more than any town manager we’ve ever had.  I would think the person selectmen might want (an acting town manager) to have some experience in the job.  How much of what he has done will need to be undone?”

Should the town combine water and sewer departments?

 Jenkins said there would be many advantages in combining water sewer under one Department of public works, saying he would like to put the building department under that umbrella.

Quigley said she envisioned an elected board of five water and sewer commissioners. . If it were brought into the town departments, three would be more efficiency. She added that she supported a reorganization of town hall, and only objected to the process.

Bonetti said there would be more accountability to ratepayers if sewer and water commissioners continued to be elected.  He added that the town needed a full time professional Human Resources department.

Gaumer said, with the entire town should be looked at with regard to reorganization. He added that a joint contractor could operate the water/sewer departments, but that finances must be kept separate. When Gaumer said the former town manager had pilfered funds from the water department, Quigley objected, saying, “Legitimate costs can be allocated to the enterprise funds.”˝ Gaumer said he could point to it in the budget.

 What can Selectmen do about incivility in the newspapers?

 Quigley said, “It’s up to the newspapers.” She said she believed this all began during Coughlin’s time as town manager. “Members of capital budget and advisory came to selectmen’s meetings and took over the meetings. Five selectmen sat there and said nothing.” She said selectmen must condemn the rhetoric at their meetings, gavel the person down, have the person removed.”

Bonetti said it was the failure of the select chair to take control of the meeting. “People were turning their backs to the speaker (Coughlin). He noted a lack of leadership in the town. “The board of selectmen can ask newspapers to try to control it. The New York Times makes you sign up under your name. Social media has become unsocial.” He added that town employees should not be using town computers for anything personal, not just blogging.

Gaumer: “It starts with setting an example. Guidance, leadership, character come into play but he said selectmen should state very clearly their expectations of civility.  He noted that the selectmen’s meetings don’t run by order. “Town Meeting rules by Roberts Rules, the same process should be used by selectmen. With regard to the blogs, Gaumer doubted it was in the selectmen’s preview to repeal the first amendment. We can all speak freely. I don’t have to announce I’m over here and I’m your enemy…. if you don’t have the courage to say it out loud (sign your name), don’t say it.”

Jenkins:  “Our chairman is looking into checking out our own personnel (regarding anonymous blogging). We may contact the papers, to see if they will stop letting (commenters) on the blog without putting their name on it.” Jenkins said he was Interested in the issues they bring up, but “Most of the time I find half truths on the blogs.”  Jenkins added that he enjoyed the civil discourse of the water commission debate going out for a 20 years concession contract. “I didn’t find it appalling, I found it was good debate. It’s important that people with passion get their point across. In this case, I supported town manager (who was against) the 20 year concession contract.”  When Jenkins was asked by DeGiacomo what he would do if it were discovered a town hall commenter was responsible for libeling a local family, Jenkins said the board needed policies and procedures to deal with that.

Is the Town on the Right Financial track? How can that track be strengthened?

Bonetti: “it appears be on the right track. We have a good team, a good process with capital budget. The one thing I find is that selectmen are not listening to their committees as much as they should be.”

Gaumer said the town was on a positive trajectory. “Only a year ago (the town manager) issued a spending freeze. Then a set of financial objectives were put into place by town meeting.” Gaumer said his committee had been discussing ways to find their way out of a 2 ½ percent spending increase every year, but there was no way to stop it.

Jenkins noted that a 2 ½ percent increase over 10 years resulted in a 30% tax increase. He mentioned that some savings could be in phone technology, but that investing in T1 and T3 high communications lines resulted in one-time savings, not continual savings. Another area of potential savings would be health care, Jenkins said, adding that the unions had agreed to something with prescription dugs that could result in substantial savings to the town.

Quigley –said as chairman of the board of selectmen she worked with former town manager Bill Griffin to form a budget-planning group that would look at bigger, broader challenges. “I was a proponent of the IT audit and what came after it. When we had water insolvency, I asked for a forensic audit to find out what happened. Many of financial solutions we have today came out of that audit.  It’s nice to talk about a 2% instead of 2 1/2% increase, but I think we have to be honest with taxpayers. For instance, we have no funding source for maintenance, although we have found a funding source for capital budget. We have to find ways to live within our budget or increase our budget, and that will be up to the voters of the town.”

Schools – what about privatization of schools?

 Gaumer:  “Privatization of schools is another word for competition. Organized labor doesn’t necessarily address education because they have larger agendas that don’t necessarily deal with the delivery of education.” Gaumer said the simplest example of this kind of competition is the charter school, although they are still public schools. In some areas of the country towns pay tuition to a private school for children to attend, foregoing the labor costs of running their own system.

Jenkins the town would never be in favor of a regionalized school system.  He said the town has arrived at what the schools and the town feel is a fair budget breakdown of 61% of the budget for the schools and 39% for the town. “This keeps everybody in line.” Also, he said the town has taken over the maintenance and IT functions allowing the schools to do what it does best.

Quigley said the schools and the town used to have the same relationship kids had at the old CYO dances (boys on one side, girls on the other). When she was chair, Quigley said she reached out to the school committee and she thinks there is respect on both sides. She said she was a public school proponent and that public education is the foundation of our country. “It’s not something our community has to be concerned with. Our community is very supportive of the schools.”

Bonetti said he understands the value of the public school system, having attended regional schools in Pennsylvania. You get a better education in a non-regionalized school, he said, noting that the Pennsylvania towns that participated in a regional school were too small to have their own. Bonetti said he has been involved in various school projects as a volunteer.

At the conclusion of the program, DeGiacomo asked the participants if they had any regrets. Jenkins said he regreted the way things “went out” with the last town manager.

© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed