Monday, October 22, 2012
Foxboro Officials Biggest Obstacle to Important Negotiations
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, October 22, 2012
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
In all fairness to the Town of Foxboro, negotiating with an organization like the Kraft Group is very difficult. While the two entities share a lot of critical interests, they also have some that clearly divide them. It is to be expected that coming to agreement on the myriad of issues facing both would take a great deal of time and effort.
But frankly, Foxboro’s biggest problem negotiating seems to be – well, Foxboro. It’s not that the town is doing a bad job of negotiating on behalf of its good citizens. But town officials keep acting like they can’t find the negotiating table with a map and a flashlight. It’s not that officials are saying or doing the wrong things, but rather that they can’t decide who should say or do the right ones.
It would take more space than is available here to review the complete history of these negotiations. To summarize, selectmen in particular have issues over the last agreement which included liquor licenses and other incentives for Patriot Place in exchange for increased revenues in general and some complicated billboard revenue sharing. There was also the matter of $7 million promised to help the town construct a sewer plant, which it later decided not to build. Some selectmen believe they are still due that funding. Now the Kraft Group is seeking more help in further developing their property for their benefit and that of the town.
However, they can’t seem to find anyone who wants to talk to them. Selectmen weren’t happy when the town negotiators consisted mostly of water/sewer folks, so this time they appointed a special committee to do the job. They included first one, then later a second of their own members to make sure they had control of the negotiations. They scheduled meetings with the Kraft Group, bringing them before the board in public session on several occasions. Foxboro has now canceled the last two negotiating sessions, the first without prior notice to the Kraft Group.
Now town counsel Richard Gelerman has advised the board to dissolve the committee. By putting two selectmen on it and controlling the appointing of the others, they in effect made it a sub-committee subject to the Open Meeting Law. Since much of the negotiations need to be done in private due to their nature, that would involve executive sessions where minutes must be kept. Gelerman consulted with the state attorney general’s office and based upon their advice suggested appointing one person – Town Manager Kevin Paicos – to represent Foxboro. Paicos would then be free to negotiate in private and bring help with him as he deems necessary.
But selectmen apparently either did not like what their own attorney had to say, or did not believe him to be correct. Selectman Brue said she would not approve moving forward without a written statement from the AG’s office. The board then voted to delay appointing any new negotiators until at least October 30th, despite their attorney’s assertion that setting up the process “is not all that complicated.”
The bottom line is the Town Manager/Administrator of a community is the person who should be running high-level negotiations like these. That is how it is done in most towns, with selectmen and Town Meeting ultimately having final approval. The board usually makes clear their priorities to the town administrator, and he or she does their best to represent the interests of the entire community.
Kevin Paicos damaged his ability to do this by his very political and personal actions during the Great Casino Debate. But as long as he holds his current position, he is the person who should be representing Foxboro in negotiations. If his board members do not trust him to do so, they should find another town adminstrator.
Foxboro needs professional representation at the bargaining table, not just well-intentioned volunteer officials doing the best they can. Professional negotiations are not conducted in public. Those who want it done that way are either trying to sabotage the efforts, or simply don’t understand the process. This is not about “transparency” but rather about using common sense.
It takes two willing parties to come to an agreement. Thus far these negotiations have included only one.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.