Monday, August 12, 2013
The Truth is a Casualty in Foxboro
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, August 12, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
Given recent events dominating Foxboro’s town government, a serious and important question has surfaced: Do government officials have any responsibility to tell citizens the truth these days?
In Foxboro, truth seems to be a rare commodity when it comes to the relationship between now former town manager Kevin Paicos and the Board of Selectmen. While no one is accusing either party of actually lying, they are both most definitely keeping the truth from the citizens they were sworn to serve. Remaining to be seen is if they get away with it.
For those unfamiliar, Paicos and selectmen reached an agreement where the former manager will get full pay and many benefits over the next 11 months for doing pretty much nothing. This follows many weeks of an unexplained “paid administrative leave” after selectmen declined to renew his employment contract beyond June 30, 2014. The current agreement contained that year-early clause.
The board voted not to renew the town manager’s contract just weeks after granting him a raise, and have not explained that. They refused to give their reasons, other than to say it was their choice. Both those actions smack of expediency and a lack of courage – political and/or otherwise.
Why did selectmen deny the option shortly after granting a raise? Why couldn’t Paicos finish out his final year, like the school superintendent in Attleboro just did? What had gotten so bad that they agreed to pay him for not working? Many Foxboro folks would like to know.
It is easy to understand why Paicos isn’t talking. Why would he do anything to possibly damage such a sweet deal? But the refusal of selectmen to detail reasons for their actions in this matter is simply inexcusable.
One selectman told me this was just a business deal buy-out, and has happened before in Foxboro and elsewhere. But in a business buyout, doesn’t someone eventually explain the reasons for it to the stockholders? And aren’t the voters of Foxboro in essence town stockholders?
It is true selectmen have to deal with sensitive contract issues. Often they cannot discuss those matters publicly because of the privacy of employees and the very nature of negotiations, even though they might well like to do so.
But when Chairman Mark Sullivan was asked why selectmen wanted Paicos to leave, he (like the other selectmen) avoided the issue. “There’s five members of the board, and we voted unanimously that it was time to move in a different direction,” he said.
Sorry Mr. Chairman, but that’s not an answer for why you set up the taxpayers to take a hit of more than $250,000. It’s a dodge. If you can’t or won’t answer that basic a question beyond those words, you have no business claiming to properly represent the local citizenry.
It has been said and written that hiring Kevin Paicos was a mistake, and the cost of getting rid of him is just something that had to be paid. That is no doubt at least partially accurate.
But it has also been stated the current Board of Selectmen is just making the best of a bad situation they inherited. That is the poorest of excuses. Two members were serving when Paicos was hired, and four of the current board has given him respectable evaluations in the recent past.
What has also been implied (and in some cases stated) is that the situation would have been worse and more costly had they not settled with Paicos and ended up in litigation. Litigation over what? Shouldn’t someone at least publicly explain why the town was leveraged into such a high cost settlement?
While Paicos is now a convenient and deserving scapegoat for virtually all the town’s problems, the truth is this current group of selectmen has performed poorly. They have mismanaged their own town manager, mismanaged situations with the Kraft Group, and even had problems following the Open Meeting Law.
If Foxboro voters and citizens decide to accept the non-answers they have been given and simply move on, that is their choice. But they are being treated shabbily.
Getting rid of Paicos is a good thing, but it does not justify the selectmen’s actions. The situation in Foxboro is outrageous, and the Board of Selectmen needs to be held accountable.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.