Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seekonk Needs To Stop Cheap Shots

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 3, 2012

Some think the national pastime in America is baseball, while others believe football is king. This no doubt varies from state to state, and town to town.

But in Seekonk, the popular sport these days is humiliating and attacking people at the weekly board of selectmen meetings. It has become a regular and disturbing practice, one which should concern the community as a whole and all who live within it.

The most recent display of this form of political grandstanding occurred when selectmen and Town Administrator Pam Nolan severely and publicly reprimanded Human Services Director Bernadette Huck for obtaining a Bingo license from the state Lottery Commission for the town’s senior center without first notifying them. Since the license was obtained, one bingo event was held. It was allegedly attended by three people, who may have spent as much as $1.25 each playing the popular game. It wasn’t exactly Foxwoods.

Huck was called on the carpet to explain her actions in failing to seek approval or permission to obtain the no-fee license, which she received on-line. She apologized for her apparent breach of protocol. But that was not enough for either Nolan or some selectmen, who proceeded to pretty much publicly flog the town official for what appeared to be – at worst – a minor indiscretion.

Selectman Bob McLintock tore into Huck, telling her she “should not have done what you did as it relates to your own board, this board and also the town administrator.” Chairman Francis Cavaco read from a transcript of a July Human Services Commission meeting where it was said Huck should talk to TA Nolan about the issue. He also chastised her for failing to open a separate checking account which he claimed was required by state Bingo laws.

Nolan criticized her employee on several levels. She questioned holding the Bingo at the Seekonk Senior Center building, which she described as “questionable” and “not up to code”. She also told Huck, “This was a new program we had no knowledge of whatsoever. I am your boss.”

And right there is the real issue. Being a boss is about making sure things are done correctly and professionally – not making a big deal of them after they are done and the situation has been addressed. You don’t make yourself look bigger by making the people who work for you look smaller. That signifies a serious lack of real leadership.

While Huck’s actions may well have been incorrect and deserving of criticism, it hardly seems they required being aired at a public meeting. Most good administrators would have addressed the matter with the employee in private and – in no uncertain terms – made clear that it must not happen again. If it was serious enough to warrant disciplinary action, then that process could have been begun.

Some selectmen seem intent on inserting themselves into the day-to-day operation of the town at nearly every level. Their micromanaging has resulted in a slowing down of town government in Seekonk, and in creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust amongst town officials and employees. Some board members seem more intent on making sure everyone knows they are in charge than actually and effectively being in charge.

No one is suggesting anything be hidden or kept from the public. This was not executive session material. It needed no secret or closed meetings with selectmen. It simply required the self-recognized “boss’ to handle the situation in a professional manner. That clearly did not happen.

And if the current Senior Center is indeed “not up to code”, shouldn’t it be secured so no one can go inside? Wouldn’t the selectmen and the town administrator be responsible for making sure that happens?

The Board of Selectmen in Seekonk sets the tone for town government. If the town’s highest board is reactionary, rude and impatient – then the town’s government will be also. They need to make sure they conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner, and show the proper respect for town officials, town employees, and others.

This is not the first time the selectmen’s weekly meeting has been used as a means of intimidating or punishing an employee or official. But it certainly should be the last.

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

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