Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mansfield Recall is Personal for TM

This is my first column for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. It appeared on October 13th, 2007.

Recall elections are messy, difficult, emotional affairs. I know – I organized one in my hometown 15 years ago.

In most communities, the allowable reasons for recalling elected officials are purposefully vague. They generally do not require the target(s) be found guilty of anything.

Two Mansfield selectmen face a recall election next month that is really much less about them than about the current Town Manager. To be sure, their role in a court case where the town was found guilty of discriminating against an employee has raised questions about their competence and integrity. But the true focus of the recall is not on them.

The Mansfield recall boils down to a referendum on Town Manager John D’Agostino. Despite recall proponent claims their goal is more accountability in town government, any objective review of the situation clearly reveals this is all about getting rid of one man.

You want facts? Well, there are lots of them in this campaign. There are depositions, affidavits, court rulings, letters, meeting minutes and other documents and oral histories that present a clear indication of only one thing:

This is a real mess in Mansfield.

All recalls – even the most valid ones – are inevitably about politics at their core. While some may seek recall to right perceived wrongs by their officials, just as many take advantage of the process simply to promote their own political agendas and points of view. It’s just the way it is.

The average length of service for a Town Manager in Massachusetts is three to five years. John D’Agostino has been in Mansfield for the better part of a decade now. There are many advantages to serving in a position like this for such a long time, but there are also distinct disadvantages.

You cannot manage a community the size of Mansfield for ten years and not make political enemies. No matter what decision you make on a particular issue, you are bound to alienate someone. The longer your time in office, the longer the list. D’Agostino’s list contains some unique Mansfield personalities.

D’Agostino said recently “All I want…is to be able to manage this town.” As time goes by, this seems less and less likely to occur.

If as Town Manager you yourself become the main focus and top political issue in a community, managing effectively becomes next to impossible. It may be your fault, or it may be caused by circumstances beyond your control. In the end, it makes no difference.

D’Agostino may find he is desperately seeking to hold on to a job he can no longer effectively do. When the majority of your time and resources are spent defending yourself rather than doing your job, you and the community suffer.

If Selectmen Amoruso and McCarter are removed, the objective of recall supporters will only be partially met. Their goal is not just to remove the two selectmen, but to also get people in who will vote to get D’Agostino out.

This is a nasty recall campaign. It has gotten personal as well as political. With the terms of both Amoruso and McCarter up this May, their opponents could have waited until then to try and get them off the board, saving the town the expense and the emotional turmoil of a recall campaign. But they saw a political edge to be gained here, and are taking full advantage.

Had D’Agostino moved on of his own volition months ago, would this recall be going forward? Mansfield voters should ask themselves that question before casting their ballots.

There is a method for getting rid of elected officials who become unpopular in office. It is called “Voting them out when their term ends”. That should be the preferred method of removing officials, with recall reserved for the most severe of circumstances.

There will no doubt be losers in next month’s Mansfield recall election. The real question is: Will there truly be any winners?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SportsTown USA

Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, this is SportsTown USA. Welcome to New England, the Sports Capital of the known universe!

The Red Sox are in the ALCS on their way to their second World Series title in just four years. The Patriots are undefeated and favored to win their 4th Super Bowl Championship in the last seven years. The Celtics are suddenly the up-and-coming NBA franchise with the addition of Kevin Garnett and are favored to win the East. And the Bruins - well, three out of four ain't bad.

If you are a true sports fan, this is the time you live for. It doesn't get any better than this. The baseball season is reaching its climax, the football season is well underway, and basketball is almost ready to tip-off. And everywhere you look, our guys are right i n the thick of it.

The Sox have the best pitching in baseball, as well as the best 1-2 hitting punch since Ruth and Gehrig. The Patriots have the best quarterback in the game, and the guy they got for a 4th round draft-pick is leading the league in receiving. The Celtics have three bonafide superstars in their starting line-up for the first time since the Big Three in the 1980's.

Life is good.

This is why we stay up until 2:00 am watching mid-season baseball games on the West Coast. This is the payback for suffering through 2-14 football seasons. This is why we agonized over the Celtic draft postion all this spring. This is the reward for being what we so obviously are:

The best damn sports fans in the world.

We in New England, while certainly suffering from our own peculiar and particular traits, understand what sports is really all about. We know this is what makes our lives so great, aside from all that "family" stuff. We are fans who live and die with our teams, and our worlds revolve on the sporting world axis.

We can bitch and moan about our guys all year long, but we know we will be there for them when they need us. We can kill J.D. Drew for 6 months, then root unbelievably hard for him in the final 30 days. Our interest doesn't end with the season, we don't care about beating the traffic by leaving the stadium early. This is our time - we live it to the fullest.

So enjoy, New England. These things do not happen all that often. The Sporting Gods do not always smile down at us the way they are currently beaming. This is the good times - don't let them pass you by without taking full advantage.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Making a Change

It is with many mixed emotions that, after almost ten years, I am leaving as a columnist for the Norton Mirror.

As of October 13th 2007 I will be writing a weekly column for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. The Sun Chronicle is the area's largest daily newspaper, and one of the best and most recognized daily papers in the state. I am pleased and proud to be joining them as a columnist, and I look forward to establishing a relationship with their vast number of readers.

Leaving the weekly Mirror, and the sister papers Mansfield News and Easton Journal, was a difficult thing to do. However, the business side of this business sometimes rears its ugly head. I will miss the fine people at these papers, and I thank them for the opportunity they have given me over the years to make my views known.

I will continue to post here, both past columns and my various musings and ramblings. I hope you will continue to read me both here and at the Sun Chronicle, and I thank you for doing so.