I've been chewing on it for a couple of days, and I'm still not sure what I saw last Monday night in the Selectmen's Meeting Room. I saw inaction that was decisive and inaction that caused me to scratch my head by its indecisiveness. I saw silence that spoke volumes and silence that said nothing.
As I left in a daze, trying to figure out what it all meant, I observed the aftermath of some poor soul who had gotten sick on the sidewalk right in front of the large picture windows which allow the public to glance into the inner workings of the seat of local government. As I lamented the unknown person's plight, I overheard a senior town official quip, "If you were just at that meeting, wouldn't you get sick too?" That frustration was pervasive.
There was certainly action by inaction Monday night. By saying nary a word on the discussion to reconsider the appointment of former Constable George Morse, the Selectmen loudly declared that issue closed. No matter what side you lined up on for this first of two title bouts, the Selectmen declared a TKO before the bell rang and forced Morse to hang up his gloves. With that, they took a major source of contention off the table. That is good for the community, as our local mood has suffered greatly of late with a host of negative issues swirling around our collective consciousness.
On the main event of the evening, a discussion on the fate of Town Manager Bob Whritenour, the Selectmen allowed a pre-bout comedy routine by their attorney, but shrank into their corner when the bell rang. Attorney Lenny Kesten might have thought he was Lenny Clark when he quipped that if each employee faced with a discrimination claim was suspended, there may not be any Selectmen left in the Commonwealth, which "may be for the better," according to the Boston barrister. This comment drew a few giggles and snickers from the assembled supporters and detractors, but did little to lighten the somber mood. Similarly, the conclusion of the Selectmen to simply ask Kesten to deliver a note to the MA Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) did little to lift the cloud over the corner office and the larger Falmouth community.
This type of silence and indecisive inaction is precisely what Falmouth does not need in one of its darkest and most difficult times in the last decade. Few who left the meeting seemed to understand what happened. The assembled groups and cliques who opined and quibbled outside of Town Hall after the meeting seemed to all reach the same conclusion - little happened in the Selectmen's abbreviated public Executive Session to give either the Town Manager or the public at large the tools to move forward with any remote sense of closure. The division between the Selectmen, and by extension, the chasm between the Selectmen and the Town Manager, lingers and widens.
In his brief statement after the meeting on a particularly canicular August evening, Bob Whritenour offered the most salient point of the night: "There are serious issues facing the town, and that's where my energies are," said our town's CEO. Amen.
The problem is, with no action, no hint of resolution from the Selectmen, Bob's ability to lead will be hampered if not crippled moving forward. If the Selectmen have confidence in the Town Manager's judgment and abilities, they owe it to him - and to us - to say so. If that confidence has waned to the point of no return, we all - including Bob Whritenour - need to know that as well. This silence is deafening by the clamor it is creating. This inaction is fostering a bustle of destructive discontent.
Leadership at the local level is about so much more than setting the budget and approving dock locations - it is about setting the local mood and creating a direction, a course for our community. It is also about setting an example for performance under pressure. I'm not sure that the course and the example set Monday night is one we collectively want to follow and emulate.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.