21 May 2012
by Mike Coughlin
This past Saturday the citizens of Cohasset met to practice the purest form of American democracy- the New England Town Meeting. This Monday the town will meet again to consider amongst other issues– the future of the Water Department.
American democracy is based upon an informed citizenry. Yet on water– this has not been the case. The Chairman of the Water Commission promised that the contract would be the most vetted in town history. However, tonight – there will be no contract for the voters at town meeting to vet, if in fact there is a 5-year contract at all.
Most voters will have little idea what they will be voting on. The bids were opened last Thursday- conveniently after the Mariner went to print. If voters wanted to view the bids at Town Hall- one must remember that it closes at mid day on Friday and it is also closed on Saturday and on Monday- most have to work.
Is this the transparency we were promised? As most in Town know, since my appointment last June, I have questioned the process associated with the contract. Whether coincidence or not by coincidence-let’s look at the record– the town manager who questioned the water contract was removed for no cause, the town town employees with engineering backgrounds who were asked to oversee the process are no longer employed, the department set up to manage all public works functions has been dismantled, the understanding if not promise by the Chairman of the Board that town meeting would decide all issues including the contract has evaporated, the bids were opened after the Mariner’s publication deadline and the voters at town meeting have little or no time to review the bids before they are expected to vote on Monday. This is not transparency; this is not good government and this is not something that Cohasset voters should tolerate.
This past Saturday, I listened to many officials tell town meeting that they discuss governance issue ad nausem. I heard these officials talk about other communities and best practices. I heard these same officials proclaim elected officials can better safeguard the public than appointed ones. Well, at town meeting every citizen is an elected public official. As public officials, voters at town meeting should demand the information needed to make an informed decision. As to best practices, in my last community– major contracts were finalized before they were brought to town meeting.
Finally, one official invoked the words of former President Ronald Reagan pointing out on every issue we should Trust but verify. Well, if you don’t have the contract– how can anyone voter trust and without a contract how can we set up a process to verify? Tonight, although I have many concerns – I am not asking that town meeting vote the article down - but I am asking that the water article be tabled until a proposed contract is brought before the voters, in order that town meeting will be able to truly consider the issue, trust if it wants to and verify as it has to.