Letter: Thank you for rallying to reinstate cemetery supevisor; Citizens must stay active and aware

by beth on June 5, 2014

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

It is with great joy that I can inform you and your readers that Bridget Gilleney-DeCenzo has been reinstated as our Rural Cemetery Supervisor. Over the course of several weeks this town has rallied together to express our outrage in how this layoff was handled by the Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator, and DPW Superintendent. A series of misstatements, lack of information, and severe lack of governmental communication resulted in Town Meeting level funding the DPW budget, which included the reorganization of the DPW. This involved the elimination of day-to-day cemetery supervision and the layoff of the cemetery supervisor.

Upon learning of the layoff, I was prepared to take action. What I didn’t realize is how many great people in this community would put their names on the line, their time collecting signatures, and would stand front and center with me. I thank every single person who gathered signatures, signed petitions to restore the cemetery supervisor position, and showed up at meetings to support this cause. Special thanks to Lisa Cappello, Barbara Murphy, John Wilson, Kay O’Brien, Lee Bartolini, Karen Sokel, Victor Merloni and others who gathered signatures rapidly to impact change. I am forever thankful for your time and support.

We were successful in our battle last night to preserve the character and tradition of having one of the most outstanding cemeteries in the Commonwealth. We made our government accountable for their role in this matter. It is my hope they have learned from this entire debacle and will do a better job presenting critical information to the public tax payers moving forward. However, we, the citizens, must continue to stay vigilant and be present. It’s a matter of holding our elected officials accountable. Let’s not sit back and become complacent. Instead, let’s stay active and aware.

We are committed to our mission to protect the cemetery, its operations, and its historical character. People who choose the Rural Cemetery in Southborough as their final resting place deserve a peaceful, beautiful place to rest. There should be no politics associated with that objective.

Thank you,
Desiree Aselbekian

1 Former Townie June 6, 2014 at 6:28 AM

AND Desiree, thank YOU for all your efforts! I have many relatives and friends who call the Southborough Rural Cemetery their final resting place and am thankful that Bridget will continue to keep it the beautiful place that it is today for many, many years to come! I may not live in Southborough any longer, but it still holds a very special place in my heart.

2 resident June 6, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Thank you Desiree and all your “assistants” who made this happen and made me more aware of what is really going on in this town. With people like you, we are all well informed. Thank you!!

3 Publius June 6, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Sounds like someone has a larger agenda. Time will tell.

4 Al Hamilton June 6, 2014 at 12:35 PM

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but there are really 2 issues at play here.

The First Issue – The lack of transparent disclosure of the full impact of the plan to “Privatize” the Cemetery Operations. The position was restored because Advisory and many citizens felt that the proper process had not been followed. I count myself as one of them.

The Second Issue – The merits of “Privatizing” Cemetery Operations. I do not believe we ever really had that discussion. It should be held and all the costs and benefits weighed. If at the end of that review a “Privatization” plan that yeilds real savings, even if it means a layoff of a public employee, should be implemented. I hope that this botched process does not scare our town managers and elected officials from ever considering this sort of thing again.

We, our elected officials and Town Meeting, have an obligation to all those who are forced to pay taxes. If we force people to give us money we have the responsibility to use it in the most cost effective way possible. We cannot and should not be providing town employees with “employment for life” simply because we like them or because we are unwilling to consider more cost effective ways of delivering the services they provide.

5 Mark Ford June 7, 2014 at 8:47 AM

I’ve been meaning to post what Al wrote–only I would have been less articulate. In a sense, I’m glad there was a procedural error in this campaign to reinstate. If a layoff makes fiscal sense, it should be done, regardless of the employee’s popularity. We certainly don’t want a sensible reduction in overhead to be blocked by petition. I’m almost sure we’ll be down this road again as we consider ways to streamline and simplify our schools and other town services, and I hope that we always consider the strapped taxpayer first.

6 John Kendall June 8, 2014 at 12:27 PM

I think Bridget does a fantastic job and I am glad that she’ll be back. My question is, does a long term employee lose seniority? What ever happened to last hired, first fired?

7 Desiree Aselbekian June 8, 2014 at 11:16 PM

It is my understanding that in the July 2013 DPW contract the union negotiated out “bumping rights,” eliminating seniority. I don’t know what they received in return. I would assume a pay increase, but that’s only speculation.

8 Mark Ford June 8, 2014 at 4:43 PM

John,

No value judgment on Bridget here. Just the tough realization that “business as usual” is not sustainable. What gains would we have seen from outsourcing that function, and is the town willing to subsidize the difference?

9 KSokel June 21, 2014 at 3:09 AM

Thanks for bringing this up Al. With a sigh of relief we’ve surmounted the first hurdle, but now must consider the rest of the obstacle course regarding the DPW issues. By the way, do the selectmen have this scheduled for discussion? Let’s do! And while we’re at it folks, how about using our well educated populace to brainstorm some money MAKING strategies, not just money cutting ones for our town coffers.
To Mark would like to reply regarding the “popularity” of the cemetery super. The reason she is “popular” is that she does an outstanding job, and would be not easy to replace. It’s those of us who have used the services at the cemetery who know the value of having a town employee of her caliper to not only oversee the maintenance of the cemetery, but actually assist the families of the deceased navigate the burial procedures, and all cemetery business with ease, accuracy, efficiency, empathy and grace, at a time when people often do not know how to do it for the first time, or are in distress and assistance is so much appreciated.
Also as regards outsourcing, I believe one of the selectmen determined the difference between outsourcing the cemetery maintenance and keeping it in-house to be quite minor indeed! This was one of the very points that made the whole lay-off seem odd, and to appear that it was not what it was being represented as, at all.

10 Mark Ford June 21, 2014 at 1:20 PM

KSokel,

Thank you. I haven’t seen anything concrete in the way of the outsource v. in-house solution. If you’re right that’s terrific. Again, I know how critical such an individual can be…but is it a full-time job? Is there bandwidth to take on other responsibilities, etc.

These tough questions ought to be asked of all town and school employees; I’m by no means singling out Bridget. We’ve got a tough bunch of decisions to make, and employees we like will be affected. This has been going on the private sector for a decade or more now.

11 Desiree Aselbekian June 21, 2014 at 8:11 PM

Mr. Ford,

You are absolutely correct; tough budgetary decisions have to be made every year relative to our town’s municipal and school budgets. However, it’s not an issue of public vs. private sector. It is an issue of value for the tax dollar. Moreover, the issue of knowing what services we are getting for our tax dollar. That has been my issue all along with this entire cemetery budget debacle. It was never discussed publicly (at the BOS, Advisory, or Town Meeting levels) that we would be losing a service when we voted for the level-funded DPW budget at Town Meeting.

While I understand many people have rallied around Bridget specifically (I have no issue with that; as I personally feel her service is invaluable), I take great issue with how the layoff was kept secret and slipped by even the most detail oriented Town Meeting goer. I share in that responsibility of not reading or paying enough attention, trust me! However, we should all know what level of service we are getting when we vote on a budget. If a significant level of service is being de-funded, such as the elimination of the entire cemetery department, then we have the right to know. More specifically, the Advisory Committee and BOS should know, so they can make the necessary value for our dollar assessment and sell it to Town Meeting. That was never done in this case, which lead to the outcry.

You see, there is a greater issue than just one specific cemetery employee. It’s an issue of government communication. Municipal government is not run like a business. Raising and appropriate public tax dollars means the government must account for the handling of those moneys. Town government can not run its operation in a vacuum. The CEO, aka our BOS, doesn’t report to themselves, they report to the taxpayers and electorate.

If the BOS or DPW Superintendent presented this DPW reorganization plan to the public prior to or during Town Meeting, and the majority was on board with the reorganization plan, then this entire discussion would be moot. I and others would have never needed to gather signatures and petition the BOS. That’s actually the real point of this entire situation. Make the case to restructure the town and/or one of its departments, let the chips fall where they may, and then everyone can move forward. It’s really a very simply plan and strategy. I sincerely hope the BOS learns from this entire debacle and institutes a new communication plan for next year’s Town Meeting Budget Presentation. I have a feeling if they don’t, people will be holding every single budget. We are now all on alert and watching.

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