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?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Get the assessment center scores of your three chief candidates and open a huge can of worms! Why spend tax $ on a private assessment center and then hire the candidate with the lowest score!