Shining the Light on Bad Behavior

 Selectmen shenanigans and chicanery

As this June gloom continues and my impatiens turn yellow from a lack of sun and too much water, I am desperate for some sunny weather.  I thought I might do my part to bring summer along by offering a lighthearted, upbeat and sunny column this week.  No dice.  The shenanigans and chicanery by some Selectmen, in this case related to committee appointments, begs a look-see this week that pre-empts any attempts to coax the sun from its hiding place. 

The committee appointment powers vested in the Selectmen are among the most important responsibilities of our chief elected officials.  Our local government is nearly wholly dependent on the civic-mindedness of volunteers, who offer countless hours for no compensation other than an occasional speckle of gratitude from a citizen, to manage the boards and committees that comprise our local government.

We place our trust wholly in the appointing authority, the Selectmen, to conduct a fair and open process for placing people on these boards, and to use good judgment in choosing the hundreds of folks vested with the authority to make decisions that impact our lives.

Back in the mid-90's, Selectman Pat Flynn and I took a stab at creating a document that outlined the process of appointments, creating a policy that would guide the Board in its considerations and deliberations.  We succeeded in a decent first effort, and this committee appointment policy has been updated several times, resulting in the Board's current blueprint for bringing new volunteers in and keeping current ones.  More than any other point, the policy stresses that all prospective volunteers should submit a detailed application and have the opportunity to be interviewed. It appears that in a couple of instances this week, that policy has been ignored or simply discarded.

I have lamented in this space before that the vacancies on many of our dozens of volunteer boards is due, at least in part, to the shabby treatment many volunteers receive from their board of bosses.  My lament continues.

The decision to not reappoint Linda Deegan to the Conservation Commission was well within the authority of the Selectmen.  The practice of unceremoniously dumping her was not within the bounds of decorum or good manners and flies in the face of the Board's own policy and usually respectful behavior.

Similarly, the effort by some (or one) Board members to simply slide through an appointment of a Constable, an important and visible position, without so much as an application, smacks of special treatment and good ‘ol boy politics that is the Falmouth politics of yesteryear, not 2009. 

In the case of the Conservation appointment, I understand the lack of endorsement of the Selectmen for Dr. Deegan's re-appointment.  Her approach to issues, despite an indisputable expertise for the subject matter, was at times brusque and anything but user-friendly.  She was an active participant in the cranberry wars, and sometimes allowed that passion to spill into her deliberations.  That said, those factors only matter in whether to reappoint her to her position, not the manner in which her dismissal was carried out. The Selectmen conducted a half-hearted, almost dismissive interview, then proceeded directly to the vote, not even offering a mirage of deliberation. The Selectmen have had enough bad publicity with their treatment of ConCom members recently - this snafu could not have been more ill-timed.

As for the Constable appointment, this display of hubris and disdain for the process was jaw-dropping. The Selectmen's own policy, which has been in place for more than a decade, is that all applicants, even incumbents, must provide information to the Selectmen for appointment.  One applicant chose not to follow the rules.  Selectman Carey Murphy correctly highlighted this fact, and was backed up by Chairman Pat Flynn, at which point they were both rebuked by the applicant's pal, Selectman Mustafa.  I truly wish I could stop mentioning him in nearly every column, but his behavior just keeps getting worse, and, more importantly, his individual set of rules is becoming more offensive to everyone who abides by the rules of good government. This foolishness also took the focus away from the other applicants, one who brings over three decades of law enforcement experience to the table.

Maybe it's appropriate that the sun hasn't been shining.  With behavior like this, we need to shine the light on the corner conference room ourselves.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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