Change Agent or Troublemaker?

 What's wrong with Brent?

Merriam-Webster defines "maverick" as "an independent individual who does not go along with a group or a party."  They describe "contrarian" as "a person who takes a contrary position or attitude."  In politics, the former certainly has greater appeal than the latter.  To be seen as an independent individual has a certain, well, maverick quality to it.  To simply be contrary is just negative.

A year ago, as Selectman Brent Putnam assumed his seat at the Selectmen's table, he had an everyman quality about him as he promised a new spotlight on openness and transparency.   He brought with him a tech-savvy platform and a willingness to provide a different perspective.  Other than his strong links to the cranberry wars, he came unaligned and independent - and certainly willing if not determined to be a free-thinking man of the people and not "go along with a group or party."  He was swept into office in part due to the negativity surrounding the incumbent whose village-centric style wore out voters after one term.  He became victorious as a maverick and, I believe, relished in that status.

So, one year later, what is the status of the maverick?  The question can best be answered with another - what's wrong with Brent?

I have watched the progression of this previously promising leader with a sometimes quizzical perspective, as he has mistaken raising questions for making objections and has replaced discussion with dissension. 

The shouting match between Brent and Selectman Carey Murphy at Monday's meeting on sewer issues is just a symptom of the problem - he seems unwilling or perhaps even unable to contribute to the "member of a board" concept.  Having served with all of his colleagues with the exception of the newly elected Melissa Freitag, I know the dynamic he faces can be a difficult one.  I have been there, as the young guy with energy and a true desire to do the right thing, trying to get through to the old guard and the good old boys to no avail.  It can be frustrating and can sap your energy.  The problem, though, is that it appears that Brent is giving up or has already abandoned any attempt to work with his colleagues, and has chosen after only a year to indeed become the contrarian and to simply find issues to raise at meetings to solidify his position as the loyal opposition. He is focusing, though, on the problem and not the solution.

More than one colleague on the Board  has shared with me frustration of what is emerging as Brent's crash and burn style of tossing a haymaker at the Selectmen's meetings with no prior discussion or inquiry on the topic.  I've been there too.  It doesn't work.  I remember my first budget cutting over a million dollars with no thought to the impact the cuts would have on town services; I just wanted to show the voters that I could yield the budget axe.  The Selectmen accepted a paltry $1,500 of my cuts and agreed to eliminate new guns for the Natural Resources Department.  I was smarting from getting slapped around, but learned an important lesson in teamwork and how my lack of it cost me.  Brent, let me have learned this lesson for you.  Your chances of making real, substantive change are far better by working with, not against your colleagues, even when they make you mad.  This week's meeting is also a good example for this point.  If Selectman Putnam had questions on the sewering of East Falmouth, the most significant and costly public works project in the history of our community, the questions should have come before the meeting to Wastewater Chief Jerry Potamis.  To raise points at the meeting on television with no warning is bad policy.  If his questions were last minute revelations, then fair enough.  If he raised them for dramatic effect, he should have at least given Potamis a heads up.  No one likes a sucker punch.   

I don't necessarily agree with the editorial staff that Brent's endorsement of Sheryl Kozens-Long's candidacy was somehow shaky on political grounds.  These types of endorsements are as common around here as beach sand.  I do agree, though, that endorsing a candidate with less than a year in the office yourself carries with it a hint of arrogance, which points to the emerging theme - has the maverick lost his way? His cool?  His everyman quality?
I don't think so at all.  Selectman Putnam still enjoys wide appeal as a sincere and dedicated guy who wants to make substantive positive change, but the list is growing of skeptics who see an emerging troublemaker with complaints but no solutions.  A new Board and a new dynamic present a renewed opportunity to bring back the maverick and make change from within.  How you handle this opportunity, Brent, is up to you.

 This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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