Friday, July 6, 2012

No Excuse For Rehoboth Officials Behavior

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 6, 2012


By Bill Gouveia

It is way past time for some serious political housecleaning in Rehoboth, where selectmen and others have turned the weekly board meetings into what more closely resembles a really awful reality television show. The behavior of some at these gatherings has gone past rude and ignorant, now bordering on just plain stupid.

But more than that, it is hurting Rehoboth. Forget about how it is making this rural community and its government the laughingstock of the area. Now the pettiness and personal political attacks are affecting the town’s ability to do business and serve the best interests of the taxpayers.

Things came to a head recently when an anonymous flier was mailed to residents ahead of a vote on a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for a new town hall. The flier made many claims about the project and town officials, few if any of them documented. It warned voters “Your taxes will be raised without limitation”, which no doubt frightened more than a few citizens. The problem was – it simply wasn’t true.

Not knowing who sent it, voters had to decide for themselves if the flier was credible. It is impossible to tell how much impact the mailing had, but the project which had passed at town meeting was handily defeated at the polls.

At the last selectmen’s meeting, finance committee member and former selectman Christopher Morra revealed he and current selectman Don Leffort were in fact co-authors of the political mailing. That precipitated some intense criticism which quickly degenerated into the immature, unprofessional behavior that has come to be a symbol of Rehoboth politics.

Selectman Mike Costello accused Leffort and Morra of lying to the public, and told Leffort “You do not do anything for this board”. Leffort responded with personal attacks against Costello, which were returned in kind. Leffort went on to use profanity several times, Costello threatened to have Morra removed from the room, and one resident told selectmen they looked like a bunch of clowns.

The clown statement may have been the most accurate one of the night.

Let’s get a few things straight. There is no excuse for town officials sending out anonymous political fliers. If you believe what you are saying, you should have the courage to put your name on it. You have to wonder if Morra and Leffort would have taken credit for the mailing had the vote had gone the other way. This was an example of trying to make the end justify the means. It brings the credibility of both gentlemen into question.

Morra continues to appear to be more interested in political advantage than solving problems. Some people benefit when Rehoboth politics are at their tumultuous worst, and thus it is to their advantage to create turmoil. The former selectman has a colorful and controversial history. Whether he is a master of politics or a victim of them depends on just who and what you believe.

Leffort has been more of an obstructionist than a leader during his time on the board. He and Costello have gone head-to-head numerous times, with each exchange seemingly more personal and nasty in nature. Costello has had his own share of controversial issues, including a state report claiming he used false information to obtain an affordable home.

The saddest part of all this is it really no longer matters who is right and who is wrong. Rehoboth’s entire town government is now damaged goods. That may well be the plan of those who keep perpetuating this foolishness. When they keep the focus on all the drama and stupidity, it diverts attention from the way the system is really operating.

Dead goats on a selectman’s lawn, a police chief crying in a bar parking lot, a cable TV organization that runs away with equipment, abuse of state housing laws, bringing the wives and mothers of selectmen into meeting conversations – this is what government has become in Rehoboth. It is a disgrace, and unfair to the town officials who do act responsibly and maturely.

Rehoboth voters need to clean house, and do it soon. Fair or not, town officials like Leffort, Morra and Costello must go and be replaced by people who will act like adults. Please – stop the madness.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.


Anonymous said...

The biggest clown in Town is the Kingpin Developer who made that statement. People need to look into what drives them. Four current Selectmen do not appear to be out for the good of the Town, but for their supporters and how THEY (property owner accross from the proposed Town Hall location and developers, etc.)can benefit. The answer to their stupid behavior is THEY posioned their own groundwater.

Bill Gouveia said...

You don't seem to get the point here. As I said in the column, at this point it almost doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. The behavior of both sides is awful and must stop. There is no excuse for the actions of town officials.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, this behavior must be stopped, but the lawlessness in Town must be stopped first or this behavior by these individuals and others will go on. Lawsuit after lawsuit (some plain extortion) with the taxpayers being the loosers. We need real leaders who won't take sides, but actually look out for the good of this beautiful Town.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gouveia hit the nail on the head. Town officials are supposed to conduct themselves in an official manner. The Roberts Rules of order last I knew were to be applied to all opposed to the caustic contentiousness that prevailed. Please clean it up.

Rick Lingard said...

I think we should vote on Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion again.

Anonymous said...

The last thing we need to do is over ride 2-1/2. Why did the town sell the North Rehoboth School when this would have been the perfect place for a town hall? My understanding is all it needed were new windows. It's a one level building with plenty of parking and we sold it a couple of months before the Selectmen decided to buy the building next to the Police Station for more money then it's currently worth. What's with that?