Monday, May 18, 2015

Foxboro Chairmanship Yet Another Fiasco

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 18, 2015.

GOUVEIA: 'As the Chairman Turns' is Foxboro's latest soap opera

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Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2015 11:30 pm | Updated: 11:31 pm, Sun May 17, 2015.

In one short meeting last week, the Foxboro Board of Selectmen showed us all the good, the bad, and the ugly part of serving in local government.
The simple act of reorganizing and electing a chairman proved to be too much for this group of selectmen. They wound up choosing a member who seemed uncertain how to win, and then handed it to a member who seemed uncertain how to lose.

John Gray was vice chairman this past year, and was nominated to the top spot by Virginia Coppola. Selectman David Feldman nominated Jim DeVellis for his second term as chairman. A vote was held, and by a 3-2 tally, DeVellis was chosen.
But after DeVellis spoke, Gray questioned the result. He said the whole thing seemed "pre-planned", accusing DeVellis, Feldman and newly-elected Chris Mitchell of conspiring to predetermine the chairmanship.
"I was really looking forward to being chairman" he said, sounding like a disappointed youngster on Christmas morning.
Coppola also complained about Gray's loss, claiming it was "his turn." Feldman responded by saying he nominated DeVellis because he thought he would be the best person for the job, and that "turns" should have nothing to do with that.
DeVellis offered to have another vote, and things got worse (if you can imagine). Gray asked DeVellis to support him for chairman and DeVellis rather gallantly agreed, but not until stating he could do a better job than Gray. Another quick (and procedurally flawed) vote was taken, DeVellis voted for Gray, and Gray became the apparent new chairman by a 3-2 tally.
And with that, town government in Foxboro reached new heights of silliness and pettiness.
It was ironic that Gray accused some of his fellow selectmen of "pre-planning" the chairmanship. He and Coppola wanted to hand the mantle of leadership to the incoming vice chairman, which would mean it was pre-planned.
Apparently "pre-planning" is only a bad thing if it doesn't go your way.
Leadership is something you earn, not inherit. Ask George Dentino in Mansfield, who ironically got elected to his second straight year as chairman of that board of selectmen last week. He waited years to be chosen and missed many "turns, "yet never once sought to reverse a proper vote that made his wait longer.
DeVellis tried to avoid creating a bitter board with his abdication, but it was too little, too late. The damage had been done. Everyone now knows the apparent chairman of the Foxboro board was not the real choice of the majority of his own committee. That is bad for the chairman, bad for the board, and bad for the community.
Immediately following the chairmanship debacle, selectmen were forced to address their latest Open Meeting Law violation. Four members (including three current ones) attended a meeting of the town's building committee recently and engaged in discussion on a topic that will eventually come before them for action.
After the fact, it apparently occurred to them that this might be an OML violation. Following discussion with counsel, they "cured" it by reading the minutes of that meeting aloud and repeating the comments they made during it.
This might not be so bad except for the fact selectmen are fresh off having to undergo training on the OML because of repeated violations.
Coppola sought to deflect blame from her board by suggesting the chairman of the building committee might have been responsible. When DeVellis (who was not one of the violators) angrily disputed that, Coppola made further excuses. She noted the offending board members had realized the error of their ways eventually.
"The fact that we realized something (after) is a big step," she explained.
No, Selectwoman Coppola. A "big step" would be not committing the violation in the first place. You don't get credit for admitting the obvious after the fact. Foxboro citizens don't want you to "cure" violations, they want you not to commit them. Higher standards would be appropriate here.
Kudos to DeVellis for trying to avoid ugly conflict, but in the end it was the wrong move. Now Foxboro citizens are waiting to see who steps up to be the real leader of their dysfunctional board.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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