Tom Wolf on Cohasset ATM Part I

By Tom Wolf

I’m glad I waited a week to deliver the postmortem on May 12 Town Meeting, Part I; now it can include the autopsy report following the election.


What began as Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski’s lengthy tribute to himself and his bosses (Article 1) morphed into references to the town’s scarcity of funds (i.e. the firings and pay raise rollbacks) and wrapped up with his acknowledgement that he (and his bosses) are looking for two new senior staffers in grant applications and IT at a cost of $250,00 per year fully loaded. Hmm… you do the math.

Wrapping things up for the day was the unanimous dissent of every elected official and appointed board member against the reform proposal of Water and Sewer. Highlighting their remarks were the following;

BOS Chair Carr said… virtually nothing.

(Advisory Committee) Andrew Willard told us that both enterprises were already heavily regulated and that it had been financial issues in town hall which had caused all the problems. Is he really trying to tell us that it was the departed Mike Buckley who drove the multimillion dollar project to include new water supply pipes in the sewerage project for Little Harbor?  Did anyone hear Buckley say, don’t worry, we’ll find a way to pay for it later?

(Capital Budget Chair) Steve Gaumer told us that Article 21 didn’t address any discernible flaw in the existing operations of Water and Sewer, and therefore, was unnecessary.  Incidentally, Steve was a member of the Water Study group that based their findings on town wide data which was eventually determined to be flawed beyond belief; one form of proof of this being the precipitous departure of the then town manager and the town’s chief financial officer.

(Sewer Commission Chair) John Beck took little time in throwing all of his bed-mates under the bus. He told us that Sewer knew the town financials were so unreliable that his department simply ignored them and kept their own books. His projection is that the Little Harbor Project may come in under budget by as much as 10% doesn’t hold a candle to Water’s DeCaprio bringing his new budget in 30% or more under the prior administration, but not bad for a outfit that pays its consulting engineer $4000 per month to attend public meetings and issued millions of dollars in RFPs under the incorrect assumption that contracts over $25,000 triggered this requirement under state procurement law; the actual figure is $10,000….. oops!  The AG’s office also advised these management experts that having their consulting engineer open and award bids at his office in Woburn with no town resident, let alone official, present, was not a healthy practice.

(Water Commission Clerk) Leonora Jenkins told us that this was all part of a greater conspiracy that would result in the DOR setting water rates with 4-5% annual increases.

Selectman Fred Koed argued that elected Water and Sewer Commissioners would be more sensitive to public needs than hired town officials. He got off the mike before anyone could ask if these people were the same sensitivity-elected officials, such as himself, showed to the fired Con Com members or was it more like the treatment 125 petition signing citizens received from the BOS. We’ll never know.

Next to speak was Selectman Paul Carlson who reminded us, once again, of his financial expertise and cited two core reasons for the problems resolved by his Water Planning Group; water usage fluctuates with weather, the poorly-structured rate schedule “exacerbated” the problem, 3) the economy is cyclical and 4) poor economic forecasting led to revenue shortfalls.

This is simply an expanded version of his previously espoused perfect storm explanation.  His solution was to double the water user bills and make bills almost entirely fees, minimizing wide disparities in water usage from home to home. We leaped from almost last to tops in the state in water user cost thru Carlson’s expertise and never once got to the issue of why we spent $10,000,000 to re-pipe Little Harbor with no means to pay for it and the flimsiest of authorization (if any) to do so by voters.

I’ve saved Water Chair DeCaprio until last because he is where it all started.

Nobody better represents just how unrepresentative our elected and appointed officials have become.  In addition to citing a myriad of arguments as to why the Citizen’s Petition wouldn’t, couldn’t work, none of which were particularly relevant to the topic, he is living, walking proof as to why citizen management is an oxymoron that has failed us in  the past and is doomed to fail us in the future.

Two basis items for you to consider; 1) DeCaprio is the singular cause our town meeting is in two parts, with different town officials at each (well, one new one, anyway).  He failed to manage his department’s affairs properly and he wasn’t ready on time. And 2) all the smoke he has been blowing up our skirts for months as come to just that; he has no concession contract to recommend, no fat upfront concession fee, only a simple contract rehash with the promise of a 30% (usage) savings on less than one-third of our bills, barely matching Beck’s Sewer performance.  All this for nothing; that’s nothing if you don’t count the $57,000 in legal fees simply to fire Mike Coughlin for no cause.

Yes, this lays squarely on DeCaprio’s plate – and untold costs in the future to clean up the debris left in his wake.

DeCaprio did afford us two benefits out of this whole mess; he has shown us conclusively that managers elected on the basis of perceived management skills and popularity are much less likely to deliver satisfactory results than those chosen for real reasons; and second, he showed us just how out of control things had become with our town government.

© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed