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 aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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