BOS: Reinstating Cemetery Superviser; support TA and DPW

by beth on June 5, 2014

The Board of Selectmen have requested the reinstatement of the town’s Cemetery Supervisor at same level, paygrade, and similar job duties.

The board acknowledged communication problems about the layoff. But they refuted charges that there were any violatations of Open Meeting Laws. They also heard and dismissed the petitioned request to remove the Town Administrator Mark Purple and Department of Public Works Director Karen Galligan for their roles in the communications and layoff.

Tuesday’s meeting opened with a continued discussion of the layoff. They spoke on:

  • Investigating the miscommunications
  • Rectifying the layoff
  • The resident petition to dismiss Purple and Galligan

Investigating the miscommunications

Selectman John Rooney shared with the board and public his investigation of the communications around the layoff.

Rooney said he was convinced he had collected all of the documents. He shared a timeline of the communications. (Click here to open.) He saw no signs of deception.

Instead, Rooney believed that the BOS simply didn’t understand what outsourcing cemetery maintenance would mean. The documents Rooney shared include his questions on those points that were never answered and which he didn’t follow up on.

Rooney also believes that Purple and Galligan have been honest about the timeline of when they learned that a relied upon retirement wouldn’t go through.

In retrospect, Rooney saw “holes” in the communication between the board, the Town Administrator and DPW. Rooney said that board communications need to be “tightened up”. He stated the BOS is planning a retreat to discuss best way to communicate going forward.

Rectifying the layoff

The board was united in their desire to reinstate the Cemetery Supervisor. She has been on leave since May 14th. The board unanimously asked the DPW to continue negotiating with union and employee to restore her position as of July 1st.

The supervisor would resume duties at the cemetery. She would not be moved to the transfer station as previously planned. Selectman Bonnie Phaneuf explained, “The scope of the [outsourced cemetery maintenance] contract has been reduced. The [cemetery supervisor’s] job description changes are minor in my opinion”

The town has identified funds in the DPW budget to restore the position. Galligan has worked with union to revise job description, since landscape maintenance is being done by contractor.

Rooney confirmed the opinion of Advisory Board Member John Butler that the layoff wasn’t legal. By law, the BOS needs to approve DPW hiring and firing.

The resident petition to dismiss Purple and Galligan

Desiree Aselbekian had submitted a request to discuss a petition, signed by around 200 residents, which states:

we have no confidence in the Town Administrator or the Superintendent of Public Works. It is a non-binding petition that we will submit to the Selectmen to let them know we do not have faith or confidence in these two employees and we want them removed and replaced by any means necessary.

Initially, resident Desiree Aselbekian was informed by an email from Chair Bill Boland that her petition would not be heard by the BOS:

When I polled several members of the Board, they indicated that they had reviewed your correspondence presented to them at our meeting on May 13 and appreciate your concern for the Town. They also indicated that they had no interest to place it on our next or a future agenda for discussion at one of our meetings. Therefore it will not be scheduled for discussion at a future meeting.

Rooney claimed that he must not have been clear in his answer to Boland on the question. Selectman Paul Cimino wasn’t contacted on the issue. And Phaneuf had communicated through Purple that it was a decision best made by the other selectmen.

According to Phaneuf, she mistook the letter distributed at the end of the May 13th meeting to be a copy of the one provided before the meeting. Therefore, she didn’t have chance to research and prepare to vote. But, she stated that on surface she also believed that the letter raised the bar of what was expected for employees versus a year ago.

Both selectmen Paul Cimino and Rooney supported residents right to be heard while disagreeing with their sentiment. Cimino stated:

The petition process is what we have. It’s not perfect, nothing is. If 200 or more citizens of the town put their names to a petition, they should get their time in front of us. . .

I think it’s a mistake to perhaps shine a brighter light on the issue by stonewalling the question. That is not the same as saying I have any agreement at all with the contents of the petition. Far from it.

Selectman Dan Kolenda said he was happy to discuss Purple’s performance. He defended Purple by stating the issue relates to only 1 out of 60 warrant articles that he successfully worked on for the town since his start. “We’re obviously learning from that one.”

Rooney supported the employees by saying:

We have a very effective operating DPW, a very professionally run DPW. We have a Town Administrator who works harder than, at least my experience, any other Town Administrator I’ve seen. He does things which are well beyond anyone’s expectations.

Addressing the board, Aselbekian said the BOS has right to disagree with petition and letter, but residents are entitled to be heard in public forum:

I’m very saddened that initially, Mr. Chairman, you were trying to deny us the right to be heard on this issue.

Aselbekian also stated the intention of petition is to give board a tool at their disposal for future contracts and decisions about what they want from professionals hired by the town.

The board opted not to vote on the charge of “no confidence”.

1 Comment removed June 6, 2014 at 6:19 AM

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2 Frank Crowell June 6, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Phred – Could you give an example of “unpleasant things” that TM has voted to do. I am at a loss to think of one, but I am getting older.

3 Comment removed June 6, 2014 at 10:12 AM

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4 Frank Crowell June 6, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Phred, thanks for the reply.

I have to agree with Al Hamilton. This whole episode will make privatization more difficult in the future. I would further add that I do not think TM would have passed this specific privitazation proposal.

5 Comment removed June 6, 2014 at 5:07 PM

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6 This Town is Run Like a Reality TV Show June 6, 2014 at 2:17 PM

I admit my only information on these issues come through reading the news various articles and blog posts, attending Town Meeting and watching portions of the Selectmen’s meetings on TV on an inconsistent basis, but it appears to me that Mr. Purple and Ms. Galligan may not be a good fit for our community. I think its also worth pointing out Southborough may also not be a good fit for them.

The private sector calls the recent events in this town a “culture problem” and generally remedies these things very quickly because the private sector values the lost efficiency through a lack of trust in the leadership of a company.

While I had high hopes for Mr. Purple to make more modern solutions to many town problems and greatly value his previous experience (on paper), it is clear that after 18 months he has created more problems than he has fixed, which is disappointing. He has also failed to build the relationships in Town, jeopardizing his ability to make any significant remedies in the future. The recent cemetery issue has clearly given a lot of people in this community a sincere lack of pause in trusting his leadership. He did mislead our community by giving many contradictory statements publicly and has broken the trust of many residents, regardless of what the Selectmen think of Desiree Aselbekian’s petition or her style in raising these issues on television. Her style may be blustery and precise, but I think the response from a majority of our Selectmen show that she is actually onto their mischievous game. And that is what they fear most. Like a deer caught in headlights, they do not know what to do!

To me, Mr. Purple sounds like Rogers Clemens trying to prove to baseball fans he didn’t do steroids. He is clearly as stubborn as Clemens and is completely missing the point. An apology and admission to do better, much like Clemens’ teammate Andy Pettitte did, would have gone a long way in his public relations debacle. Has anyone talked about Pettitte doing steroids recently? No. But Clemens is the Biggest Goat of the steroid era because he acted like a stubborn fool and routinely gets booed by baseball fans everywhere. Yet, Clemens always appears like he has no idea whats going on. He is stuck on Planet Roger. I’m wondering the same thing about our Town Administrator?

Like myself, residents may not know all the details of all town issues, but they can smell a rat. And we pay a high premium to have high quality professionals making good decisions. Purple should have just admitted he made a huge mistake instead of taking the Town on this ridiculous publicity stunt and tarnishing his reputation, and the Selectmen’s, and the Town’s, at the same time. Successful leaders look in the mirror and correct their mistakes. Time will tell if he has done this.

Despite the tennis match of allegations and defensive, politically postured rebuttal all over the place, I ask: Do Southborough residents want leadership like this? Is this the standard we have for what we pay in taxes? Do we want our town leaders embroiled in scandals and conflict seemingly every month with something new?

Taxpayers pay Purple and Galligan over a quarter of a million dollars every year to lead our community! Where are the standards?

Contrary to what Mr. Boland, Mr Kolenda, Mr. Rooney, Mr Hamilton and some others have mentioned publicly or on this blog, this is NOT Mr. Purple or Ms. Galligan’s first hiccup during their tenure. While I admit I do not spend the amount of time many on this blog keeping up with all town events and frequently search Google to find information, in just the last year or so we have seen our town run like a joke of a reality TV show. The Town should sell off the rights to this sideshow and at least generate some income for the calamity that has ensued. Hollywood can’t write this stuff!

And personally, I do not think these hiccups are funny. They have serious financial consequences to our wallets and hard earned money through wasted time, litigation, contentious relationships and so much more. Here is just a short list of the known problems reported in the press through a quick Google search:

The Cemetery staff layoff debacle (and sorry to say this, a TA who lied to our community and supported a vindictive move by the DPW Director to get someone she did not like fired);
A lack of transparency at Town Meeting regarding almost $600,000 in capital expenditures in the budget, only to find out our DPW Director is getting a new $50,000 car — $50,000!!!!!
The 40B problems throughout the community and at Park Central and that the community lost $500,000 in mitigation money from the developer;
The Town missed a critical 40B “Safe Harbor” letter to protect this community;
a tiring and contentious Main Street redevelopment process (emphasis on process) that is like a round peg being pounded into a square hole with significant resident dissent;
A poorly run Police Chief Search process (time will tell if the right choice was made, but nobody can doubt the jeopardized process);
the Barn Lane debacle;
A wasted Special Town Meeting in 2013 due to failed solutions in the town; and
The worst of the worse, the Snow Plow problems with Ms Galligan (including more lies that there was no knowledge of the issue, then video tape surfaced from a department that you are supposed to be on the same team with, and then no public disclosure of whether discipline had actually been handed down. Why should we believe Mr. Purple again?);
And, he has caused some level of divisiveness in the community. Some town staff, many residents, and many stakeholders (town employees, businesses, boards, committees, other) simply do not feel the town is headed in the right direction.

Maybe this is what Desiree Aselbekian is trying to get across? Who is to say she won’t get more signatures if she already has 200? And the above incidents are just what comes up from a recent 20-minute Google Search. If I had the time, what else could be dug up??? What else do we not even know what is going on that the press doesn’t see??? And this is just in about 12 months!

While all of these issues are not unilaterally Mr. Purple’s fault, I think it does show a lack of leadership in this community to get things done, and even worse, build the relationships to prevent conflict in the community and move it forward. He has now been here for over 18 months from what I read online. That is plenty of time to evaluate whether someone is moving the town forward or not and if they are a good fit. There is not one tangible item or news article I have seen that shows me he has made a positive impact in this town. And our Selectmen can’t name a single accomplishment either! They just say he is the “most hard working Town Administrator I have seen” and “he got a great evaluation from us last year.” There doesn’t seem to be any formal evaluation on the Town website. And what is the specific rationale to get a 4% raise? What are the tangible results?

Well for a $140,000, plus benefits, and other perks per year, I don’t see “hard working” as an achievement. That is the baseline expectation of the job!

Wait, is this also the same Town Administrator that the Selectmen and Advisory Committee proposed to take over the day to day reporting of DPW, Fire, Police and the Town Clerk? What evidence do we have that this Administrator can handle any more responsibility? No wonder those articles failed at Town Meeting by huge margins. If my memory from Town Meeting serves me correct, he did not know who our Animal Control Officer was???

I ask our leaders what is the Town’s return on this $140-160,000 a year investment in Mr. Purple? Again, I have seen nothing more than bad reality TV over the last year. In fact, I see a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role is. I don’t see a collaborative environment.

Mr Purple clearly wants to be a Town “Manager” and have control over everything and the original 3 Selectmen seemingly support this. His previous experience are in Framingham and Ashland had Town Manager’s. The problem for Southborough is we do not have that form of government and have routinely rejected this concept for many years. Again, people are trying to pound a round peg into a square hole instead of rolling up the sleeves, listening to stakeholders, opening the door, engaging, doing the hard work and getting our value for the $150,000 we are spending on just him!

A quick Google search shows Selectmen Kolenda stated at the time of his hiring, he “really liked Purple’s emphasis on teamwork.”

So where is this teamwork? Are the recent problems the result of teamwork? Vision?

A quick Google search turns up this quote from John Rooney during Mark’s hiring: “Rooney acknowledged that with Purple’s expanded roles, less day-to-day business will be done in meetings in front of residents.” Not to be snarky, but I guess Mark took this too seriously with the Cemetery issue. And the Advisory Committee thinks so, too, voting 8-0 last week that Mr. Purple did not advise them of the cemetery plans.

That does not sound like teamwork to me. It sounds to me like Mr. Purple is looking for a role the Town does not offer.

All of these shenanigans have come prior to the tenure of Mr Cimino and Ms Phaeneuf. Adding two members is the exact reason why the Town went to 5 Board members and have rejected the Town Manager form of government. To bring additional perspective and accountability. I sincerely hope both of them do their diligence this year and lend a voice to help bring some sanity to this organization and better value for taxpayers. I personally voted for both individuals in this hope and have confidence they can bring perspective and action.

But in the meantime, while the other three Selectmen seem content to defend their choice for Town Administrator like Roger Clemens denying he did steroids, residents are clearly on notice that the Town House is not being run very collaboratively or without any vision or leadership. Residents are now on notice, including myself, to be more participatory.

Mr. Purple has a year or so left on his contract from the news articles online. Maybe in that time we will figure out whether he is the right fit for this community and/or whether this community is the right fit for him?

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