Falmouth Selectmen's Pledgegate Nonsense Goes National [Richard Latimer]

No  rule ever voted to say pledge at selectmen meetings

In order to adopt any "policy" affecting their conduct of public business, the Selectmen must discuss and vote at a public meeting.  To adopt a "policy" without meeting those procedural requirements would be a violation of the open meeting law.I have to take issue with Troy Clarkson's take on Falmouth's Pledgegate fiasco, where he criticizes  Selectperson Melissa Freitag's omission, while acting as chariman, to lead the pledge of allegiance before a recent Selectmen's meeting as being "nonsense." 

There is much nonsense afoot about this trivial matter, but that has been generated by the likes of Selectmen Kevin Murphy and Brent Putnam, aided and abetted by local ice-cream magnate Robert Volosovich who ran for Selectman and lost to Ms. Frietag.

Troy claims that Ms. Freitag "refused to honor a previous vote of the Selectman-a defiance of the elected leaders of this town. . . ."  He claims this was an "elimination of the long-standing policy of saying the Pledge of Allegiance" before every Selectmen's meeting  Hyperbole is the mildest term I can think of for that characterization.

In order to adopt any "policy" affecting their conduct of public business, the Selectmen must discuss and vote at a public meeting.  To adopt a "policy" without meeting those procedural requirements would be a violation of the open meeting law.  There has been no such vote to recite the Pledge of Allegiance taken at any Selectmen's meeting.

There was, reportedly, an informal agreement to recite the Pledge  reached by a majority of the Selectmen at a retreat a few years ago.  That was a consensus on a matter of practice, of routine really, as opposed to anything approaching a policy decision. Ms. Freitag disagreed with that informal agreement among a majority of the Selectmen.

Again, if it were a formal vote on a matter of town policy, an actual "vote of the elected leaders of this town" on any kind of substantively important issue as Troy would have it, Selectmen Murphy, Putnam  et al. should be hauled up on ethics charges for violation of the open meeting law.  In that event, Ms. Freitag's only failing would have been keeping silent instead of reporting the matter to the State Ethics Commission.

Also, Falmouth was incorporated some 350 years ago, while the "long-standing policy" of reciting the Pledge at Selectmen's meetings, as Troy would have it, began just two-and-a half years ago. Again, we'll just say Troy is wading through some hyperbole here, even though it is a bit deep.

Meanwhile, it is a matter of  long-standing procedure for all town boards in Falmouth that the chairman, or acting chairman, conduct the meeting according to the board's formally adopted rules, with full discretion whether to include or exclude matters that are not within the scope of such rules.  That was exactly what Ms. Freitag did when she omitted recital of the Pledge in favor of moving on to the actual, substantive town business the Selectmen were elected to conduct at the meeting.

Troy is right to refer to this whole mess as being just so much "nonsense," but that is really the doing of Murphy, Putnam and Volosovich. It's no secret that Murphy and Putnam don't particularly like Ms. Freitag, while Volosovich is just scooping out so much sour grape sherbet, and it is clear that their purpose in going public on this trivial issue is nothing but politics mixed with a large dollop of personal animosity. 

It was malicious nonsense for Volosovich to call the Boston media to report this bit of local newsiness, and it was malicious nonsense for Murphy to get himself quoted in the Boston media and then wrap himself up in the flag on national television.  The malicious nonsense is now being compounded by their calling out the National Guard -or at least a local Guard Commander to lead a "community pledge" at Town Hall Square. 

Troy is thus mistaken when he says Ms. Freitag has done a disservice to local activists whose populism is at odds with the actual policy positions of self-styled conservative pols like Murphy, Putnam  and Volosovich.  It is those three who have embarrassed the Town of Falmouth by actively inflating their peevish dislike of Ms. Freitag into a regional and national infotainment event.  

Falmouth hasn't seen such an embarrassing teapot tempest created by elected officials since the time Winnie Woods and Betty Lindtner fought over a chair at a long ago Planning Board meeting.  That one, however,  wasn't televised, and neither of them saw fit to call the Boston media or call in the National Guard about it.

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