What the hell is going on lately?
It is no secret the last year has been absolute insanity with regard to national politics. There were times we all shook our heads and expressed gratitude we weren’t in Washington.
But now that craziness seems to have seeped down to local government in our area. Now I know, people say stuff like that all the time. But I’m not kidding or exaggerating in the slightest. Right at this particular moment, there are some absolutely nutty and unbelievable things going on in various local communities.
Let’s start in Norton, where the chairman of the board of selectmen recently resigned amid rumors he is under investigation for his actions at his private sector job as the financial head of a chain of auto dealerships. As of this date there have been no criminal charges filed and few details released, but the situation was serious enough that he resigned his town position rather abruptly.
There has been no indication that any actions under investigation involve the use of town funds. But the situation comes after a relatively quiet last couple of decades for Norton.
Next door in Mansfield, Town Manager Bill Ross is suddenly and unexpectedly leaving his position. That was a huge shock last week to most observers. He and selectmen apparently negotiated a quick exit for the popular manager in executive session, without offering any explanation as to why or what is behind it.
Ross has received near-universal praise for his work in Mansfield. He followed an extremely controversial town manager, brought stability and sound management to town, and was apparently well-liked and respected. Something obviously happened to change the faith his selectmen often expressed in him, and we will probably find out just what in the near future.
In North Attleboro, the posting of bigoted Facebook memes and comments has apparently become a hobby for some seeking or holding elected office. It started with an RTM member last March, leading to his resignation. It continued with a selectman candidate this past election, and that individual dropped out — then dropped back in — and eventually finished dead last. He admitted to the posts, then claimed “hacking.”
Then it was discovered a sitting selectman had also posted bigoted items, and his resignation was demanded by a group of citizens. He apologized, appeared to admit he initially lied about them, then denied he admitted he lied, was forgiven by the group of citizens, and remains a member of the board today.
In Easton (just outside our area) the political situation makes things locally look tame. There is a divide on the board of selectmen wider than the Grand Canyon. The town clerk was fired by the town administrator when it was discovered he had not filed documents with the state for years. Then the longtime town administrator was fired, purportedly for not properly supervising the town clerk, but more probably for not fitting into the political plans of the current selectmen majority.
A local activist was appointed to the conservation committee by selectmen over an experienced member, then discovered to have posted extremely bigoted memes about Muslims. He was essentially defended by the majority of selectmen, and only apologized when the political pressure became too great. He remains on the conservation commission today.
Recently some Easton officials and citizens have been posting and sharing insulting and “satirical” personal attacks against the longtime editor of the local weekly newspaper there, complete with her altered photo and talking about “pantless yoga.”
Is there something new in the water? Did 2016 leak political toxicity into our system and the New Year? Can we blame all this on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
Or even worse — is this the new normal? Have the standards of ethical behavior for officials and citizens dropped so low that even the outrageous seems semi-acceptable? Are we now conditioned to accept these things as long as the people doing them generally vote the way we want? Does the end now justify the means?
And we wonder why more people don’t get involved these days
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.