What happened on May 26, How it Happened, Why It’s Bad for Cohasset
We always say we are a government of laws, not men. This statement stands for the ancient concept that no person is above the law. Cohasset’s Town Manager Act (law) dictates that Selectmen (persons) form a policy-making board, and can “set goals and objectives but not administer daily affairs of the Town”. This means they are authorized to establish how things generally should be done, but not to jump in and do or undo them. The Board recently abridged the law in big-footing the Town Manager’s most important appointment, for Cohasset Chief of Police.
In arguing that the Board must act in “best interests of the town ” Chairman Steve Gaumer reinvented the position of Selectman-As-Paternalistic-Overlord Cohasset is all too familiar with, objecting to an otherwise entirely legitimate appointment by an utterly capable professional Town Manager because it did not jibe with his personal preference. Selectmen Kevin McCarthy and Paul Schubert echoed these sentiments in a manner that was so in synch with Gaumer’s as to suggest prior non-public coordination among the three.
What was clearly on public display was not pretty. The actual motion voted on was so muddled that the Town Manager had to save the Board from itself by later – graciously – withdrawing the appointment. Otherwise a special meeting to make the motion and take the vote they should have taken (to reject the appointment) would have been necessary. (Notwithstanding the three Selectmen in question, one an attorney, have collectively vast experience of attending and chairing public meetings, they demonstrated no ability to do so correctly. )
The fact is there is no policy existing, set by this or any previous Board, that says new hires should be weighed in the context of “popular support” or “loyalty” of the individual being considered; or the effect of hiring the individual being considered on the “stability” of the department as a whole. Nor should there be, since these are highly subjective criteria. Nor could there be since hiring policy is a professional Human Resources function that belongs anywhere but with the elected Board of Selectmen.
Law enforcement is a profession, and The Town Manager following accepted procedure found a well qualified candidate for Police Chief but the Board of Selectmen prevented his hiring for purely political purposes. So, Cohasset still has an Acting Police Chief appointed by a formerly Acting Town Manager, instead of a permanent Police Chief. And a talented professional Town Manager who must be wondering how to do his job.
Truth be told, Selectmen do not sit above the law and may not substitute their judgment for that of the Town Manager in matters falling within his purview. But this Board did, although no legitimate policy reason for rejecting his choice for PC was ever stated by this Board, because there is none. This Board imagined one that suited its purpose. Saddest of all, those who voted in the majority did not even need a policy. The fact that supporters of the Board-majority view were openly gloating even before the meeting began, and seen taunting non-supporters as they exited the building later, is evidence of the fact that the outcome was pre-ordained by those few who put themselves above the law.
We deserve better, because if the most powerful public officials are guided by anything but adherence to the rule of law, no one working under them has a chance to do otherwise. Everyone in town will suffer the consequence. Unfortunately, once elected officials decide to ride the political wave instead of doing what they were elected to do, it can take until the next election to undo the harm. Let’s get to work.
© Copyright 2015 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed