Monday, July 9, 2012

Trust A Big Issue In Foxboro

This column originally appeared in the Su Chronicle on July 9, 2012.

A now-retired town manager once told me, “I never forget that I work for the selectmen. It’s my job to carry out the policies they establish and maintain a respectful relationship built on trust. If that’s lost, then none of us can do our jobs well.”

Nowhere is the wisdom of that statement clearer than in Foxboro, where Town Manager Kevin Paicos and selectmen appear to be locked in a power struggle. But the majority of selectmen are making it known they – not the veteran manager – will be shaping the town’s policies and goals in the future.

Over the last two years selectmen have found themselves reacting to Paicos far more than guiding him. With an aggressive leadership style sometimes bordering on insubordinate, Paicos has been a strong presence in Foxboro. He has been unafraid to make important decisions on his own, and has displayed what some interpret as a bemused indifference to those responsible for his employment.

The most recent example of problems between the board and Paicos surfaced last week after it was announced selectmen gave the town manager a raise retroactive to last year. In October they had evaluated Paicos’s performance and publicly announced he would receive no increase in salary. So it was a bit of a shock when it became known – nearly eight months later - they had in fact handed him a lump-sum three percent increase retroactively.

Newly released minutes from a closed executive session in January show the raise was first discussed then. According to selectman chairman Jim Devellis, Paicos was allegedly considering suing them for not giving him a raise even though his contract contained no language requiring one. Devellis said Paicos believed he was entitled to a cost of living increase because the previous town manager had received them even though they were not called for in his contract.

Devellis said the town incurred over $4000 in legal costs on the matter, and selectmen ultimately decided to “compromise” and give Paicos the increase. In return both sides signed a new agreement where it allegedly became clear such future increases were not guaranteed. In summary, selectmen “compromised” by caving in to the threat of a lawsuit and gave Paicos the increase they had previously publicly refused him.

Selectmen last week voted – again – to give Paicos no increase for the coming year following yet another evaluation. They want people to believe they really mean it this time, though their credibility on the issue is pretty weak. Paicos took a conciliatory position after the vote, saying he now trusts the board will do the right thing by him with regard to compensation.

“I didn’t sign that (the new agreement) because I intended to complain after you made your decision,” he told members. “I signed it because I decided to trust you.” He claims his negotiations with selectmen were conducted “amicably and without any acrimony whatsoever.”

That sounds all warm and fuzzy, but the fact this “trust” was apparently achieved via the possibility of litigation lends a sense of irony to the entire situation. Paicos has toned down his public persona since the end of the casino issue in no small part because some of his selectmen made it clear they were tiring of his act. Even selectman Mark Sullivan, generally a Paicos supporter, wrote in his evaluation, “The town’s people have not embraced him (Paicos) and feel slighted.”

Paicos acknowledged the criticism and said "What this community wants in the coming year is a bit less of me and a lot more of you speaking.” That is a wise revelation for the veteran administrator, who has had many successes during his two-year stay thus far in Foxboro. But it is hard to believe Paicos will undergo a metamorphosis of style at this stage of his career.

For all the new talk of trust, it appears little of that precious commodity truly exists between the town manager and his bosses. Paicos has been politically playing his selectmen quite well for the last two years. The damage done during that time will be difficult to repair.

Both the town manager and the selectmen need to regain the confidence of Foxboro citizens. There needs to be less talk of trust, and more evidence of it.

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

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