Of Constables and Fences

I sat in my big rocking chair Monday night, a tall glass of fruit punch and healthy portion of peanut butter cup ice cream on the end table, and waited for the unfolding of the latest haymaker to be thrown in the George Morse vs. the Town of Falmouth bout, but alas, the unfolding of that drama will have to wait for another day.  The standoff between Chairman Pat Flynn and Morse's attorney Gus Wagner on the paperwork provided to the Town has postponed a second vote on the Constable appointment for at least a week.  Postponement or not, the still-in-limbo appointment of Morse as a Constable, entrusted with serving civil process, posting Town Meetings, and assisting in debt collection, has provided much political theater over the last few weeks.

Selectman Brent Putnam has been only too willing to share his disdain for his colleagues on this issue, opining Monday that Mr. Morse is "getting the shaft," and offering freely to anyone who will listen that his colleagues and other high ranking town officials have engaged in some sort of dastardly deeds in reviewing the now disputed information on Morse's past.  That issue will be fully vetted between Attorney Wagner and Town Counsel Frank Duffy in the coming days, but what is really disturbing and deserves mention here is Putnam's eagerness to call out his colleagues publicly and bring the disagreement between Selectmen to the center stage.  Our form of government suggests, perhaps even demands philosophical disagreement amongst its leaders, but the sort of personal "gotcha" that Putnam has introduced on this issue is troubling. It is also potentially harmful to the entire Board of Selectmen and the Town.  The Board, after all, is our executive authority, and any individual member's thoughts on the legal exposure to the Town should be just that, thoughts.  Putnam has a duty to keep that stuff confidential, lest he or she contribute negatively to that very exposure.  To put it simply, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Speaking of troubling and political theater, the near volcanic exchange between Attorney Wagner and another member of the Selectmen during that same hearing ended peacefully enough, but was ramping up to be the title bout as Wagner suggested (or politely demanded) that Selectman Carey Murphy recuse himself from this debate, which is quickly gaining cranberry-like status on the local political scale.  Because Murphy had previously offered an opinion on the Constable subject (one not to Wagner's or Morse's liking), he was accused of being "less than appropriate."  Having served with Carey for some time, I've come to recognize the signs of trouble, when that crimson color rises from the neck and slowly populates the cheeks and forehead.  To the veteran Selectman's credit, though, he maintained his composure in the face of some unabashed goading and simply stated that he would participate in the hearing that never came to be. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Act III of this drama unfolds in the corner conference room.

And speaking of the corner conference room, I did notice, as I was scraping the last bits of melted peanut butter cup from the bottom of the bowl, a flash of fairness from the oft-criticized Selectman Mustafa.  During what was at times a silly debate on placing a fence along a homeowner's property along the new bike path (we need a committee to place a fence?), Selectman Mustafa plainly re-stated the words of  both retired Town Engineer George Calise and his able replacement Peter McConarty.  These two no-nonsense public servants studied the issue at length and recommended placing a fence to restore the privacy of the local homeowner, at his own expense.  Some bikers and walkers lamented that their Shining Sea experience may be altered by looking at a 300-foot fence.  In sympathizing with the homeowner, I wonder how wonderfully civic-minded but misguided bikers like Patty and Leonard Johnson would feel if dozens of folks were peering into their living room every day? Anyway, Selectman Mustafa simply offered that the experts had stated their well-studied thoughts on the issue and made the motion to allow the installation.  Of course, the motion was not approved, as the Board decided to take some more time to consider other options, but Mustafa's no-nonsense common sense approach to this issue reminded me of the man-of-the-people local leader elected those many years ago.  Is the "old Ahmed" back? Stay tuned for that one as well.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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