Mid-Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, member John Rooney shocked the room by changing the effective date of his resignation from one year out to immediately.
The selectman ended his close to seven years in office with a short passionate speech about the importance of his integrity. He said he no longer had the appetite for the “factional crusade of assumption” that questioned his ethics. (You can view his full speech above or scroll down to read it.)
Rooney pointed to deadlines for the upcoming Town election as reason step down now.* He concluded by saying that he was “figuratively and literally dropping the mic”.
Following his departure, fellow selectmen shared their shock and dismay over his resignation and the situation that led to it. And they lauded him for his tireless efforts on behalf of the Town.
Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf emotionally told the audience:
We just lost a great resource on this board. . . we lost a great man this evening.
They were sentiments echoed by Selectman Dan Kolenda who referred to Rooney as having “the highest ethical standards I’ve ever seen”. He said that Rooney “didn’t deserve the arrows” and told Phaneuf neither did she.
Between Phaneuf’s comments about Rooney, she addressed the ethics complaint filed against both of them. To those who disagreed with her actions in past months, she explained:
My purpose was to defend this Town when I thought it was the right time to defend it. Now my ethics is being called into question. I’m not leaving this seat. I will fight those complaints, because when I participated in meetings, it was in the interest of this community.
Selectman Paul Cimino stated:
The anonymous folks behind the ethics charges against Mr. Rooney and Mrs. Phaneuf are shamefully grasping at straws.
Cimino pointed to Attorney Gary Brackett’s reference to the 170 signatories on a petition as the clients he represented in filing an ethics complaint against Rooney and Phaneuf.**
But that petition was to remove Leo Bartolini from the Zoning Board of Appeals. It made no reference to any charges against Rooney or Phaneuf. In fact the petition thanked Selectmen for their actions in an August 2nd meeting. But now, Rooney’s and Phaneuf’s participation in that meeting is the main source of the attorney’s complaint.
It’s cowardly that no one wants to take responsibility for that filing. . . Mr. Rooney has served our town tirelessly without need of thanks for almost 8 years. He’s the prototype of a selectman that we all need, if not deserve. All the rest of us should aspire to be what Mr. Rooney was.
Cimino said that under Rooney’s tenure the board has tackled more weighty issues than he could remember at any other time. And regardless of how people sided on an issue, it was hard work over months/years. In the end those projects came to Town Meeting voters to decide. But without work by selectmen like Rooney, there would be nothing for Town Meeting to vote on.
In Rooney’s earlier statement he said that he had been subject of much discussion that:
has called into question my ethics, my values, my decision making ability, essentially who I am. In my line of professional work, I have for 35 years (although I may not look it) spent every day guarding and solidifying my integrity, and only a fool would believe that the activities in this forum do not impact one’s professional life.
I give all of the members of the board here tremendous credit for your perseverance, in particular Ms. Phaneuf who has been the recipients of slings and arrows the longest.
For me, it has become more and more difficult to convince people, as well as myself, that serving the Town in this capacity is worth it.
The factional crusade of assumption is something I no longer have any appetite for. And since I’ve already made my decision to step down, it only makes sense, given the upcoming election cycle for me to do so immediately.
So for those in the audience who happen to have the great fortune of being younger than me, I am right now figuratively and literally dropping the mic.
Rooney said his goodbyes to fellow board members, then left the meeting.
Again, you can see Rooney’s full speech and more of selectmen’s reactions in the Southborough Access Media video above.
Editor’s Note: I’m sure there are those who will blame my story on the ethics complaint last week for pushing Rooney to move up his resignation. The belief that I contributed to his decision makes me ill.
And I again apologize for sloppy writing that led many to believe I was implying that Rooney was resigning for reasons other than what he had stated.
As I clarified in a follow up piece last week, I believe that Rooney has always acted with integrity in serving the Town.
I do believe that because lines around the conflict of interest on that August 2nd meeting were blurry, mistakes may have been made. But I don’t believe there was any nefarious intent. I believe that both Rooney and Phaneuf were trying to do what was right for the Town.
And I believed Rooney’s stated reasons for initially giving one year’s notice on his resignation.
*April 6th is the deadline for changes to candidates on the Town ballot. I presume that means the Town has a short window to make changes to the ballot to allow election of a replacement.
However, Rooney’s term was set to expire in May 2019. Current candidates filed papers to run for the two seats with three year terms that run to May 2020. And the deadline for filing papers has passed. So, I’m unclear how Rooney’s vacancy will be handled. That is something I will have to follow up on.
**Though Brackett refers to representing the clients, his letter says that he is making the complaint. But within the letter, he refers to the petitioners/clients as having discovered the conflict of interest issues in the course of the removal hearings process. And he says that the petitioners were aggrieved by the purported conflict.