Friday, March 29, 2013

School Committee Better Get Story Straight

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 29, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

When the Attleboro School Committee made a mess out of getting rid of Superintendent Pia Durkin, it was hard to imagine them looking any more dysfunctional and secretive. But in trying to hire Durkin’s replacement, they have done just that.

Despite being handed two candidates, the committee was unable to make a decision on who to hire last week. Only the members themselves know why, because they chose to conduct their deliberations behind closed doors where the public could not view what should have been the climax of this arduous process.

The committee voted (not unanimously) to enter into executive session for the purpose of discussing bargaining with non-union personnel, meaning they were going to discuss a contract for whoever the new superintendent would be. It would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law to discuss the comparative strengths or weakness of the finalists in secret session, or to make the actual choice.

After the closed meeting, Chairman Michael Tyler announced “there was no consensus on either finalist” and said another meeting would be held with an eye towards making the decision.

Of course, that raises some interesting questions: If all the committee talked about in this closed meeting was contract negotiations, how could they possibly reach a “consensus” on which candidate to hire? How can they negotiate or even plan strategy until they know who they are negotiating with?

Choosing a school superintendent is a very important and difficult task. Attleboro knows this, since they have done it several times in the last two decades. In fact, the next superintendent will be the 6th appointed by the school committee in the last 16 years. That’s a lot of superintendents in a relatively short span.

While the process is complex, choosing between two finalists is not. Each member evaluates them and votes for the candidate of their choice. It is a weighty responsibility, but ultimately you have to make an actual decision. It’s one or the other – or perhaps scrapping the process and starting all over. This is arguably the most important thing any school committee does.

Several members expressed surprise there was no decision made. Member Ken Parent said he was disappointed. Vice Chair Brenda Furtado said she was “disgusted”. The agenda did call for a public portion of the meeting to discuss the candidates, but it apparently never got that far. And again, the question is – why?

On their web site the school committee talks about the superintendent search being inclusive of the public. Their statement says “The search will incorporate a high degree of public engagement, with every constituency wishing to share their views on the process having ample opportunity to do so.”

Yet apparently the “public engagement” does not include allowing their constituents to observe what should be the public process of choosing between the finalists.

In fairness to the committee, they did have their lawyer present during the closed session. And the generalities of any potential contract do need to be worked out in private and in advance before anyone is hired. But they cannot and must not deliberate in secret on who to hire.

It is difficult to understand how they did not do that when after the meeting they spoke about not having “a consensus” on the choice. How would they know they don’t have a consensus unless they deliberated and discussed it? And where did this concept of a “consensus” come from?

Member David Murphy said he believed finding a consensus was important, rather than choosing the new superintendent by “a razor-thin majority”. While he is entitled to his opinion, the fact remains only a majority is required to make the hiring. How can any member know if there is a majority, razor-thin or otherwise, unless they have discussed the actual appointment?

This process may be highlighting why Attleboro has had trouble hanging on to school superintendents. But more disturbing is that it gives the appearance they have been less than totally open in their deliberations.

The school committee needs to come out of this process with both a good superintendent and the trust of the voters they represent. Based upon their performance, the latter may be more difficult to achieve than the former.

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Attitude on Gambling is Hypocritical

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 25, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

          We New Englanders are generally known for our thriftiness, directness, and love of our professional sports teams.  We tend to be straightforward folks, and what you see is pretty much what you get.

            Well, most of the time.  But when it comes to the topic of gambling, we are among the larger hypocrites.  We tend to say one thing, but do another.

            New Englanders have always been a bit on the puritanical side.  That is part of the reason why there are few if any real casinos in our part of the country.  But make no mistake about it - we are no strangers to gambling.  Not by a long shot (pardon the pun).

            In this general area gambling officially thrived for many decades.  In Taunton and Raynham, two dog racing tracks existed within a short drive of each other and prospered for many years.  They also employed many people on both a full and part time basis, and were an accepted (if not highly regarded) part of the community.

            Closer to home, Foxboro was host to a harness-racing horse track for several decades.  It was a well-attended facility that eventually ran into disrepair before it closed shortly after the original stadium was built.  It also served the local economy, providing jobs for many locals.

            Naturally, there was the other side to these entities.  They made money by taking it from people willing to risk it.  No doubt many a paycheck was lost in search of that elusive big score over the years, and many an angry spouse cursed the fact they existed.

            But gambling is not primarily a sin of geography.  Just take a ride down Interstate 95 one day and count the number of Massachusetts plates on cars in the parking lots of Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.  Or stop at Twin Rivers in Rhode Island and do the same.  And what does that tell us?

            It tells us we Bay Staters love to gamble.  Not all of us, of course - but a pretty large number.  We have the most successful state lottery in the country.  Ask any gambling expert from places like Las Vegas or Atlantic City about New Englanders, and they will tell you we are known for our gambling.  The casinos love to see those from the Northeast coming for a visit.

            That does not make us bad people.  But as much as we may love gambling, we don't like to admit it and don't seem to like it too close to home.  We apparently enjoy the fact we can claim we don't have gambling here, but with a short trip can still enjoy it.

            The problem is we and our state don't benefit when our gamblers leave the Commonwealth to have their fun - but the other states do.  Now we face trying to locate casinos within our borders so we gain our share of the revenue it provides, but at the same time continue to maintain our hypothetical purity.

            That attitude is making it difficult to get casinos licensed and built here - along with the sad fact that everything costs more to do here than in other states.  Between decision-makers who constantly have their hands out, and those worried about their community's moral values being compromised, the process is taking a lot longer than it should.

            Now to be sure, gambling has its severe problems.  It can become addicting and has contributed to the break-up of families because someone can't control themselves.  I know I have seen it affect my family and friends, and we aren't just talking about casino-style gambling here. 

            But gambling can be compared to activities involving alcohol and tobacco.  We don't ban those activities, nor do we refuse to allow them within our state borders.  Instead we regulate them.  We tax them.  We control them.  And part of the revenue we collect from them we funnel into efforts to educate the public about their dangers.

            That makes a lot more sense than blaming the facilities or state officials for giving so many what they have clearly wanted.  

            State and local officials should spend more time protecting our wallets than our morals.  But you wanna bet they don't?

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mansfield Chief Search Too Limited

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 18, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

Congratulations are in order to Mansfield Police Sgt. Ronald Sellon who was recently chosen to be that town’s next Chief of Police when current Chief Arthur O’Neill retires at the end of this month.

The new chief is a veteran member of the local department, and brings tremendous experience and expertise to his new position. Being familiar with the department and the personnel, he will no doubt be able to hit the ground running and make the transition a smooth one.

Town Manager William Ross had the important task of making the appointment. He said he conducted an extensive process including interviews with the candidates and other law enforcement officials, as well as a full day of assessment center activities provided by an outside source. He noted the difficulty in making a choice from among the finalists.

But with all due respect to the three in-house candidates, by its very nature the search was quite a bit less than “extensive”. That is not to say the best possible candidate wasn’t chosen, but it is asking the relatively simple question: “How can you know that for sure, when you really didn’t look?”

Mansfield is a Civil Service department, and the chief’s position is governed by that body and those regulations. Mansfield’s “search” for police chief candidates never went beyond the halls of its own police station. The reason is – at least largely – because it is almost impossible to do so when working within the arcane, obsolete and unfair restrictions and guidelines of Civil Service.

Most people agree that when searching for a town manager, police chief, fire chief or other skilled local position, it makes sense to give some preference to in-house candidates. After all, they have working knowledge of your system. You no doubt have invested money in training them. In many cases, they are residents and taxpayers in your community. It not only fair to give them some type of advantage in the search process, but it is beneficial to the citizenry to do so.

When searching for a town manager, Mansfield conducted a truly comprehensive search. They did not limit themselves to managerial candidates currently working within the government. As a result they hired Ross, an outsider who has won considerable praise for his performance. They have conducted similar searches over the years – with varying degrees of success – for other positions such as school superintendent, town treasurer, and other professional jobs.

But when it comes to picking police and fire chiefs, Mansfield – like so many other towns – allows itself to be virtually restricted to those they currently employ. Because the town accepts the provisions of Civil Service, it must also accept an inferior search process and rules which are so slanted towards employees and against management as to be almost laughable in today’s world.

Conducting a search beyond those currently working for the town is not in any way disrespectful to those employees. They should always be given fair and perhaps even more than equal opportunity to win these coveted positions. But is is just plain wrong and unfair to local citizens to run a closed search, where the results are rigged to limit the candidates before the process even begins.

It is entire likely that even if a search across Massachusetts or New England was conducted, the new chief would have come from the in-house candidates. So supporters of that system point to the time and money saved in keeping the search limited and local.

But what do you lose by limiting yourself? You lose the perspective an outside candidate may provide. You lose the opportunity to gain experience other candidates may have picked up from their work in other communities. You unnecessarily shut yourself off from a possibly great pool of choices based upon nothing but geography.

Many towns in this state are not Civil Service. Mansfield officers can apply there to be chief, but skilled officers from other communities cannot apply for the Mansfield job? It seems silly, because it is.

Civil Service does let you hire outside candidates, but not without tremendous difficulty. Mansfield and other communities would do well to rid themselves of this antiquated and corrupt system.

In the meantime, Mansfield has an excellent new chief despite a search that never left town.

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Buying A Mattress A Tiring Experience

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 15, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia

I am an out-of-touch shopper when it comes to most items of the household variety. It constantly amazes me how much things cost.

Now, talk to me about an HDTV or an updated computer, and I’m okay. Even new cars are something I can be conversant about pricewise. But get into furniture, curtains, carpeting or flooring – and I am lost. Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you.

That’s why the past few weekends were such a shock to me as we went out to buy something everyone has in their home – a mattress. Our old mattress dates back to one of the Clinton administrations, and was clearly in need of replacement. I remembered vaguely what we paid for our king-sized bed back then, and figured things couldn’t have changed that much. My wife just smiled and said we’d go shopping.

As I recalled, mattress shopping was a simple thing. You go to a store, you try out a few in the display room, and you pick the one you like. I tend to go for a softer sleeping surface, while my Beloved prefers a firmer mattress. I figured we’d debate, discuss, compare the alternatives – and then she would tell me which one we were buying. That’s how it usually works.

However, things have apparently changed a bit since we were last in the market. Upon entering a local store, we were guided to a computer where we entered our name, age, general physical characteristics and other information. We were then escorted to a small bed adjacent to the computer, where we were instructed to lay down one at a time and be “measured” for our perfect sleep fit.

That surprised me and immediately removed me from any comfort zone I might have been in. As I grudgingly reclined on the bed, I felt a bit like a large fish being hung on a hook at a dock to pose for a picture. A small television screen above my head extolled the virtues of this sleep system and the importance of selecting the right mattress.

I was told the results of this “screening” immediately pinpointed what kind of mattress we needed. To say I had my doubts would be an understatement, but I played along. After all, this had the potential to shorten my shopping experience. That is almost never a bad thing.

We were then shown to several of the displayed products for more traditional testing. The task now was to agree on a specific mattress we could both live with for the next decade or so. As with most things, that would prove to be more difficult than anticipated.

We proceeded to do the Goldilocks routine. I said the first bed was too hard, my wife declared the second bed too soft, and I was hoping the third would be just right. But when I saw the price, I decided we needed to do more shopping. She just shook her head.

The following weekend we went to a different store and went through a similar experience. Once again I was “measured”, though by this time I was convinced the colored lights were just a scam and looked the same for everyone. But I dutifully listened to the analysis of how I could now be shown the perfect sleep surface.

We were thorough and careful in our consideration. We tried several beds, and finally settled on the one my wife really liked. I thought it might be a bit firm for me, but it did seem comfortable during my brief sampling. So we made the purchase, though it felt like they should at least include dinner and movie for the price we were paying.

The bed was delivered and my Beloved was thrilled. Truth be told, I liked it a lot when I went to sleep those first few nights. On the third night I awoke about 4 am wondering why my back and shoulders felt like they had been beaten severely for an extended period of time.

It’s been a week or so, and I’m getting used to it. I am barely hunched over when I walk now. My wife says we can make an exchange if I want.

I’m afraid she may mean me.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Seekonk Board Just Can't Get It Right

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 11, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

Careful attention should be paid to the current fiasco passing as a political race for selectman in Seekonk. The contest and the performance of the board as a whole (and each member individually) have been textbook examples of what happens when arrogance and self-promotion become more important than serving the public good.

Each Seekonk selectmen’s meeting seems like little more than a chess match, with members seeking to position themselves and others in such a way as to maximize their own political advantages. The strategies are not exactly complex or complicated, giving the board itself and the town government in general the appearance of being a poorly organized and slipshod operation.

Worse than that, it looks like the citizens of Seekonk are actually the last thing most of these folks are worried about. They are merely yet another tool to be used by self-serving politicians who over-estimate their own importance and under-estimate the intelligence of their constituents.

Take for example the recent “controversy” surrounding the date of the Annual Town Meeting. Selectmen were forced to cancel the meeting hours before it was scheduled to begin on February 25 because of an unthinkable clerical error. Apparently none of the selectmen who signed the original warrant bothered to actually read it and thus did not notice it had no date and time on it.

Having served as an area selectman, I can’t stress enough how silly this is. Selectmen should always check the documents they sign. Town Meeting warrants are among the most simple of those. This mistake was a huge embarrassment for both selectmen and their staff.

But selectmen then made matters worse by rescheduling the meeting to March 25, which happens to be the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover. After doing this, they began to have second thoughts when both candidates running against the incumbent chairman put out press releases denouncing the move. Further community pressure forced them to hold an emergency meeting and again change the date, this time to March 27.

Of course, they couldn’t even do that right. Board members sparred about the change, trading silly statements. There were charges of violating the doctrine of Church and State, warnings the town might be sued for delaying voting on school issues, and complaints that notices of the changed date had been submitted to the newspaper before it was voted. It seems the last thing they were concerned about was a date when the greatest number of citizens could attend.

Then Chairman Francis Cavaco continued the nonsense when he chose not to participate in a televised cable access candidate’s forum because he believes the organizers were conspiring against him. In a press release issued after he failed to show, Cavaco said the debate’s coordinator is “part of a group of elected officials, town employees and longtime activists who have a stake in protecting the longtime status quo at town hall.”

While acknowledging all questions in the debate came from local media members, Cavaco said it would have been too easy for the coordinator to “selectively submit reporters’ questions to the moderator that would put me in a bad light.”

When the chairman of your board of selectmen is either unwilling or afraid to answer questions submitted by the media in an open debate before the voters, you have serious problems. If you can’t handle yourself in an ordinary debate of the issues in public, how do you expect voters to have faith in your ability to manage their public affairs?

A huge part of being a selectman is dealing with people who may not like you and may not have supported your candidacy. If you are more worried about being cast in “a bad light” than you are about allowing the voters to see you engaged in an open discussion of the issues, then you should reconsider your commitment to public service.

The only way to improve things on the Seekonk Board of Selectmen is for more voters to get involved in the local political process. They need to turn out in force for the upcoming April 1 election, and continue to do so after that.

It’s time Seekonk voters started telling selectmen what to do, instead of the other way around.

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

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sequester is All My Fault

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 8, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

I have had enough of this “Sequester” stuff. It has to stop. This madness cannot continue. So I am going to end it right now in the only way it can possibly stop.

I am taking the blame. The Sequester is my fault.

That’s right, I did it. I wrote the law, I pushed for it, I personally enacted it, and I lobbied for it in Congress. I forged the President’s signature on the actual bill. I take full responsibility. You now all know exactly who to blame. Bury me under a mountain of abuse, release your frustrations, and attack my character, reputation and abilities. I am guilty.

I kidnapped executives at both Fox News and MSNBC and forced them to spew angry rhetoric designed to do nothing but inflame their respective political bases. I faked a phone call to Bob Woodward and got him mad at the President. I made Speaker Boehner cry.

So please – for the love of all that is good in this world – move on now from politicizing this critical issue and start actually solving it.

President Obama is officially off the hook. So is Speaker Boehner, Senate Leader Reid, all cabinet officials, every member of Congress and the head valet at the White House. You are all hereby officially absolved. You shoulder no blame. Now get to work.

Everyone in Washington agrees the Sequester cuts as they currently exist are stupid. The amount of money is workable, but not the actual plan. Heck, when I personally devised this plot I did it because I thought no one would ever allow this to happen. But then it did, and now I need all you heroes in Washington to clean up my mess and return us to some form of sanity.

Nothing has happened as of yet on this crucial matter because the blame always got in the way. After all, what good does it do the President and the Democrats if we reduce our spending in a big way but the Republicans get the credit? And how humiliating would it be for congressional leaders on the right if this “Socialist” president somehow managed to address spending?

I get it – it doesn’t do either side any good unless they can get credit for it. And that means the other side has to get the blame. In Washington, the easiest way to make yourself look better is to make your opponents look worse. It’s not what you accomplished that counts, but rather how you voted. How can you win your primary back home unless you totally toed the party line?

That’s why I’m willing to take the political hit here. I know it’s probably going to cost me my shot at the presidency or even a senate seat, but I’m just going to have live with that. I can’t sit back and watch this circus anymore. I have to do something, and this is the only thing I can see being even slightly effective.

Mr. President, please call a joint press conference with the Speaker to denounce me. Explain how what I did was so diabolical and evil that it forced you two and your parties to work together to undo the harm I caused. Senate Democrats and Republicans - join hands on the steps of the Senate Building and sing patriotic songs while celebrating the way you have removed me from the scene. Explain to everyone what a wonderful thing it is that the last obstacle to common sense governing has been eliminated.

I am so ashamed. It was a very bad thing I did. You were right to rip me, to highlight my misdeeds. I don’t know how I ever imagined I was going to get away with such a stupid plan. Thank goodness you found me out and can now undo all I despicably did for my own political gain.

Yes, the Sequester was all my idea. It was 100 percent my fault. I was only stopped through the incredible and devoted efforts of this unique group of leaders we have today in Washington. We are so fortunate they are in place protecting our interests.

And by the way – it was my idea to hire Bobby Valentine last year too.

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Plainville Feeling Foxboro's Hand In Pocket

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on March 4, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

Mitigation – it’s a word being tossed around quite a bit recently in terms of what area towns may expect if the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville is awarded the highly sought after slot machine license in Massachusetts.

According to the word “mitigation” is defined in the following way:

1. The act of mitigating, or lessening the force or intensity of something unpleasant, as wrath, pain, grief, or extreme circumstances: Social support is the most important factor in the mitigation of stress among adolescents. 2. The act of making a condition or consequence less severe: the mitigation of a punishment.

In this instance mitigation is being used to describe what could be done to compensate area communities for the “impact” locating a gambling facility of this type might have on them in various ways. The town discussing it most right now is Foxboro, with selectmen recently having state gaming officials visit to explain how they can benefit.

Selectman Chairman Jim DeVellis said, "This is not an adversarial position, but rather an opportunity for the developer to work with Foxboro so their application is complete and comprehensive when it reaches the commission for their review."

That’s a nice way of putting it, but seems disingenuous at best. It sounds much more like Foxboro is trying to put itself in a position to either oppose Plainville’s project or benefit from it in ways not possible if this were any other kind of development. And that seems – well, a tad selfish.

The traffic generated by the proposed slot house in Plainville is dwarfed by the traffic generated by Patriot Place throughout the year – forget the traffic which occurs during Patriots game days and other stadium events. Plainridge is located on Route One, right at the intersection of Interstate 495. While some small roads in Foxboro could see some increase, it is difficult to imagine an overwhelming influx of new cars.

Did Foxboro offer Plainville “mitigation” when Patriot Place opened? Or when the stadium opened, for that matter? Perhaps they did, but I don’t recall it. It is interesting Foxboro seems to expect it now. DeVellis said, “At the end of the day there is going to be one slot house in the state so [Plainridge's] study is saying they’re going to be pulling business from everywhere and if they’re starting to pull business from Patriot Place then I think that’s another impact.”

Really? Is Plainville and Plainridge supposed to protect Foxboro from allegedly losing some business at Patriot Place? Did Foxboro “mitigate” any loss of business other local shopping centers had when Patriot Place opened? Or is this strictly a one-way street?

Another recent statement made by the Foxboro selectmen chair was regarding the impact of having a slots gambling facility located close to town. “I think it was said well at the meeting by someone that if one of our kids is more prone to gamble in the future because they abut a slothouse, that is a real impact," DeVellis related.

This is a bit confusing, coming from a community that for decades was home to one of the state’s premier harness racing tracks – which is exactly what Plainridge is today. Foxboro Raceway stood at the current stadium site for many years, and Foxboro happily accepted the revenue it provided. Now a similar operation with the addition of slot machines, which is scheduled to generate no income for Foxboro, is somehow a moral threat to the community? How convenient.

Plainville Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said he is wary area communities may “seize on an opportunity they would not have in other circumstances” to grab some “mitigation” cash. He stressed he was not saying this was what Foxboro officials were doing. Others – like me – are not quite so sure that isn’t the case.

Like Foxboro, Plainville officials were presented with a unique revenue and business proposition. Unlike Foxboro officials, they chose to listen to the opportunity and allow their voters to make an informed final decision. Foxboro should make their concerns known to their Plainville neighbors, then butt out and let Plainville voters have their say.

The eyes of Foxboro may well be upon Plainville, but the hands of Foxboro should – for now - stay out of Plainville’s pockets.

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

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mansfield Boards Feud Helps No One

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 1, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

The recent political battle between the Mansfield Board of Selectmen and the Conservation Commission they appoint should have been waged on one the town’s playgrounds rather than within the walls of town hall. At least then all the silliness put on display would have a more appropriate backdrop.

Mansfield selectmen were unhappy with their Conservation Commission’s performance. Specifically, they were angered by the commission’s use of outside counsel to advise them on a specific issue, as well as whether or not proper procedure was followed in instituting regulations. They instructed town counsel – which really is a misnomer, since in most towns that attorney works for and under the guidance of the selectmen – to “investigate”.

Counsel did as his selectmen requested, and selectmen made sure they had much public discussion about the report. They apparently wanted the commission members to come to the selectmen’s meeting and have a discussion about the selectmen’s concerns. There is confusion and debate over whether or not the members were actually invited to gathering, but the situation quickly deteriorated from there.

Selectmen also responded to complaints they claim to have received from residents and others who have appeared before the conservation commission. According to selectmen chairman Olivier Kozlowski, many of these complaints involve allegedly unfair or rude treatment and were anonymous. Kozlowski and his board felt compelled to address these complaints in a very public fashion despite their mostly anonymous nature. Kozlowski wrote that his board “will continue to monitor this situation.”

Well, good for them.

It is difficult to judge the validity of anonymous complaints against public officials. Unless they involve serious crimes or misconduct (and none has been alleged in this mess) they need to be documented by those who make them in order to be taken seriously. As Kozlowski himself noted, they usually stem from those who did not get what they wanted from some public board or official.

That does not mean they should not be taken seriously. And there is nothing wrong with passing them along to the official or committee in question. But if you are going to accuse a board or individual members of such behavior, you have an obligation to give them specific examples and allow them to know just who is doing the accusing.

Some selectmen were extremely upset the Con Com members did not show up to be questioned. “Why don’t they come in here so we can look at them face to face and have these discussions?” asked selectmen Jess Aptowitz. Before the meeting was over, selectmen had voted 5-0 to suggest the commission go over the regulations in question with town counsel and the town manager in hopes of correcting any problems.

Which raises the pretty obvious question: Why didn’t selectmen just do that in the first place?

Could it have been because they wanted to try and pressure and influence the committee members they appoint? Why couldn’t this have been worked out in a professional manner between the town manager, the conservation agent, and the two chairmen? How does it serve the public interest to have two bickering boards blasting each other in the newspapers and on cable TV?

The saddest part of this story is that commission member Michele White was caught in the crossfire. She was recently not reappointed when her term ended, clearly and unquestionably a victim of local politics. Chairman Kozlowski said of her non-appointment: “Under the circumstances, a majority of the board felt that sending two new faces to the seven-member board, both of whom were present when we discussed these issues with the commission, would have a greater impact.”

This seems to say Ms. White was knocked off the board not based upon her qualifications, but rather by the desire of selectmen to have the conservation commission run the way selectmen want it run. That is a very shoddy way to handle appointments, and discourages good people from stepping forward and offering their services to the town.

The conservation commission may well have made mistakes. Selectmen are right to want to make sure any mistakes are corrected. But when they do it in a way designed to shine the spotlight on themselves, they do neither themselves nor their constituents much good.

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