Friday, September 14, 2007

Mansfield Selectmen Need Dope-Slap

This column appeared in the September 14th edition of the Mansfield News.

I have a suggestion for a new motto for the Mansfield Board of Selectmen. It should be inscribed on a banner and hung on the wall in their meeting room. The sign should read:

“If we can’t win the game – we’ll just change the rules.”

Changing their positions more often than Senator Larry Craig, the Mansfield board continues to put on a clinic of how not to act as a responsible governmental body. They continue to ignore the major problems that threaten to tear this community apart, instead concentrating on correcting the annoying habits of those who continue to irritate them.

Recently the board’s actions hit the height of absurdity when they voted to change their rules concerning members’ casting votes. In a move specifically aimed at maverick selectman George Dentino, the majority of selectmen voted to require any member who abstains to explain his or her reason for doing so. Dentino has often abstained during votes of the board.

The vote on the new policy was 4-0-1. Dentino, in a beautiful piece of political gamesmanship, abstained. You have to chuckle at that move.

But it is the actions of the four majority members that are truly laughable. While they seek and demand accountability from Dentino, they continue to ignore calls for more accountability from them to the people who really matter – the voters and taxpayers of Mansfield.

This is not to make a martyr out of Dentino. His votes are often self-serving, designed more to draw attention more than to actually solve problems. But his fellow board members continue to fall into the political trap laid for them by Dentino and others, and they show no signs of wising up anytime soon.

Faced with growing anger from at least a small group of citizens over the recent jury verdict against the town, selectmen have totally melted down. For two weeks they hid behind their elected offices, refusing to allow the public to ask questions at their meetings citing their inability to discuss all aspects of the case.

They initially discussed blocking a recall effort generated by citizens before allowing it to continue. They continue to tell people everything they cannot do, when all people want to know is just what it is they actually are doing.

Memo to the majority board members: You are allowing yourselves to be played, and it is hurting both you and the town.

Let’s be realistic here. This recall and political upheaval in town right now is all about one thing: Getting rid of Town Manager John D’Agostino.

Whether there exist sufficient grounds for firing D’Agostino is certainly debatable. But that topic will be debated throughout this community whether selectmen acknowledge it or not. Ignoring it as if it were the pink elephant in the corner does no one, least of all the Board of Selectmen, any good.

Trying to get back at Dentino by changing the rules on abstentions is like responding to the horrible events of 9/11 by invading Iraq – it might be deserved, but it does nothing to solve the original problem.

Selectmen need to stop acting like administration officials during the final days of the Nixon administration. They need to face the problem before them head-on and deal with it.

No one said it will be easy, and no doubt they are somewhat hamstrung in their efforts. But a court of law said John D’Agostino did something illegal, it cost Mansfield money and its integrity, and the townspeople are demanding to know what is going to be done about it.

On this question, no selectman can abstain.

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