Monday, February 25, 2008

It Takes More Than Barking

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, February 16, 2008.

There is no one single reason why Mansfield is such a political mess these days. In fact, there are many.

But chief among them are the actions and behavior of Selectman George Dentino, the self-proclaimed “watchdog” of Mansfield town government.

Dentino claims to be looking to help solve Mansfield’s problems. If that is true, the first-term selectman has been a dismal failure thus far.

This is not to say Dentino is responsible for the childish, immature and unprofessional mess that is Mansfield’s government today. There is more than enough blame to go around, and enough shoulders on which to heap it.

But while others may have caused many of the difficult problems that plague this town, Dentino is responsible for something arguably worse.

He is preventing them from being properly addressed.

Dentino’s constant showboating at meetings takes up valuable time that should be spent constructively addressing their many pressing problems.

Being a watchdog is great, but if all you do is continuously bark, your value is lessened. A watchdog that runs and gets help is preferable to one who merely makes lots of noise while the home in question is being ransacked.

Dentino has made lots of noise, but accomplished little else. He blames this on his fellow board members and the Town Manager. But his failure to lead effectively is his fault, and he must face that truth.

Dentino is intelligent, articulate and honest. He cares about his town and his fellow citizens, and has a deeply ingrained sense of right, wrong and duty.

But he has yet to master the role of selectman. He seems to think it is about finding fault, assessing blame, and publicly scolding those responsible.

He is wrong.

A good selectman keeps his or her eye on the big picture. As a local leader, your goal must always be to make government work for the benefit of the citizens and taxpayers. That means getting results as a board, not individually.

In no way does this mean unethical or illegal conduct must be condoned or accepted. But it does mean adapting your personal style in order to be effective.

Dentino has succeeded in calling attention to himself and pointing out mistakes. He has also done an amazing job of alienating and angering the other four selectmen, who he needs in order to get any real change accomplished.

But he hasn’t made Mansfield better. He hasn’t brought about serious, lasting change. He hasn’t been willing or able to set aside his considerable ego and form the consensus necessary to achieve true reform.

Dentino constantly harps on issues in order to advance his goal of getting rid of the town manager. He asks public questions not to get answers, but to embarrass the administration. He seems more interested in making his point than solving the town’s problems.

Though supporters love his style, Dentino needs to learn to become at least as effective as he is abrasive. He needs to place substance above show. He and his colleagues need to learn to respect each other in order to cooperatively work for the betterment of the community.

Is Mansfield’s town government better or worse today than it was before George Dentino was elected? That is a matter of opinion and great debate.

But clearly things are bad right now, and there is no indication they are going to get better anytime soon. Some of the fault for that has to land in Dentino’s lap.

It’s not that Dentino is always wrong. He quite often brings up valid points worthy of discussion and action.

But his grandstanding and public inquisitions have to stop. The attempts at public embarrassment need to come to an end.

The sad thing is, Dentino possesses the talent, ability and desire to bring about necessary change in Mansfield. He just chooses not to do it.

“I’m a minority voice. That’s the way it’s been. I just live with it,” Dentino said recently.

Maybe he can live with it, but the people of Mansfield shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

Enough with the petty politics and political showmanship. Get down to the real business of government, and do it in a professional manner. Mansfield’s citizens deserve nothing less.

Bill Gouveia is a community columnist who has been known to bark a little himself. He can be reached at

No comments: