Candidates for selectmen talk transparency, fiscal issues

Last night was the first of two meet-the-candidate events in the run-up to town elections on Monday, May 10.

As the candidates for selectmen — incumbent Sal Giorlandino and challenger John Rooney — were being introduced, I found myself wondering if either would bring up the ongoing investigation of town employees, or if it would be the proverbial elephant in the room.

As it turned out, there were no elephants in that room last night. The so-call Southborough Eight investigation — and the larger topic of government transparency — was a major theme of the debate.

“There is a perception of the Board of Selectmen, that a lot of decisions are being made behind closed doors, a perception that the board invokes executive session too often,” Rooney told the crowd of about 50 residents. “Unfortunately, perception becomes reality. Decisions need to made in the open with full discussion and full dialog.”

Giorlandino responded saying he was “very surprised” by Rooney’s remarks. “What we have tried to do on the Board of Selectmen in my tenure is to make the process more open,” he said. “Citizens of this town have a right to know what government is up to.”

Rooney said the fact that the investigation of town employees has dragged on as long as it has indicates a lack of leadership. “You don’t investigate eight senior member of the town for seven months and still not have a resolution. That’s a leadership issue,” he said. “If a town employee takes a position in violation of town policy, then you show them the door. You fire them.”

Giorlandino said in launching the investigation, selectmen were determined not to repeat a mistake the town made in the 1980’s when a sexual harassment complaint was made by a female police dispatcher. Giorlandino said that complaint “wasn’t addressed properly” by the town, and after nearly ten years of legal battles, the dispatcher was awarded $250K by the state’s Commission Against Discrimination, at the time the highest judgment in the agency’s history.

“When the Board of Selectmen receives a complaint, there is an obligation to investigate it. We cannot just ignore it,” Giorlandino said.

Switching to a different — but equally as pressing — issue, a Deerfoot Road resident asked both candidates about what fiscal philosophies they would employ to see the town through the tough economic times.

Rooney said in the absence of creative ways to increase revenue, it will be up to voters to decide whether they want to raise taxes or cut services. “The only way to increase revenue is to raise taxes,” he said. “Voters are going to need to make a choice.”

For his part, Giorlandino said the town needs to take a look at all the buildings it owns and decide if there are any that can be sold to bring in additional revenue.

Giorlandino also said he disagreed with voters’ decision to tap into the town’s stabilization fund. “For several years we have ducked the very important question of how to fund town services by dipping into the stabilization fund,” he said. “Next year is going to be a very challenging year financially.”

The candidates for selectmen weren’t the only ones to debate last night. I’ll recap discussions by candidates for the Planning Board and Board of Health in upcoming posts.

For those of you who were at the event last night, what did you think of Rooney and Giorlandino’s statements?

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michael Moore
13 years ago

I thought that both candidates presented themselves quite well. Mr. Giorlandino was by far the more polished of the two, and as an incumbent, he’s running on his record. Mr. Rooney seems like a bit of a long shot right now (he got into the race at the last possible minute, and he doesn’t seem very comfortable with the process of campaigning). He said that he finally joined the race because he thought that it should not go uncontested, and because he feels that his leadership style differs from that of Mr. Giorlandino and would be beneficial for the town.

To me, this seems like the major point of distinction between the two candidates. In the discussion, they were in agreement on the clear issues that came up and each expressed respect for the other.

The major point of difference in leadership style seems (right now) to revolve around the management of conflict. Although transparency was the watchword, this is the main cause for which transparency has been sacrificed. Mr. Giorlandino defended the legal action of the board, saying that it was necessary to hire outside attorneys to do a full investigation in order to ensure a fair and unbiased resolution. Mr. Rooney stated that he, of course, doesn’t know the full details of the case, but that it seemed like something that could have been handled more directly and effectively by stronger leadership and better internal communication.

Personally, I tend to side with Mr. Rooney on this. The legal quagmire of this investigation doesn’t seem like an effective way to address… well, anything frankly. Everyone agrees that you can’t ignore issues and hope they’ll go away, but there are solutions that don’t involve lawyers, and leaping directly to an independent investigation seems to belie an insecurity and dependence on outside help that is not what I would hope for in a selectman. Of course, I don’t know the details of the case any better than Mr. Rooney. I’m assuming that the board went directly to the full investigation based largely on Mr. Giorlandino’s representation of the decision being between that or no action.

We Need a New Approach
13 years ago

And I side with Mr. Rooney as well.

You know, our citizens should remember that to vote against an incumbent does not imply some sort of inherent personal animosity toward that individual. In fact, it is entirely appropriate to find no personal fault with Sal and still conclude that he is not a good Selectman. It’s really not more complicated than that.

As between these two candidates, I think Mr. Rooney is the better choice for our Town. I will vote for him, and wish Sal well at the same time. So should you all.

Harold Raez
13 years ago

I believe Mr. Moore has accurately described the difference. If by saying “Mr. Giorlandino was by far the more polished of the two” Mr. Moore means that Mr. Giorlandino appeared like a politician, then I also agree with that observation. Mr. Rooney’s background is very impressive, and when he spoke, he did so with passion and integrity.

One thing that struck me about Mr. Rooney is that he appears honest and tells it like it is. He said that the economic mess the town is in will cause the voters to have to decide in the very near future if taxes should be raised to maintain services. Mr. Giorliandino on the other hand, while agreeing that the town is in a financial mess, talked about selling buildings! Haven’t we been talking about selling buildings for years and years and years? He has been a selectman for three years. Why haven’t we sold any buildings yet? Or are they also still under investigation? Also, in typical politician style, Mr. Giorlandino made reference to the fixed income of seniors. Okay, everyone understands that concern, but how do we increase revenue if we don’t raise taxes and if selling buildings is under investigation?

I guess it was just a refreshing moment to see someone who did not double talk, who talked to us instead of at us and who actually answered every question asked directly. He did not go off on tangents but was focused.

One thing I have no idea what Mr. Giorlandino was talking about was the sexual harassment suit. How does hiring all of these lawyers and forcing 8 employees into an executive session and then not making a decision for over a year protect us from an outcome similar to the sexual harassment matter? If he was attempting to cloud and confuse the voters, he was successful in this effort.

And, finally, where in the so called town policy does it “require” the selectmen to do what they did. I see it no where and I think his explanation is just plain wrong and misleading.

13 years ago

I would not want to work for this town, if Mr. Rooney gets elected. He said last night that if an employee did something wrong he would fire them, no hearing no investigation nothing. The current BOS did the right thing had it investigated..

He also said that the BOS invokes “Executive Session” to much. As far as the investigation of the ” Southboro Eight”, there is I believe 9 reasons for “Executive Sessions” one of these is to hear complaints brought against a public officer, employee, or individual.

By Mr. Rooney’s statements it is quite clear he has no understanding of the position of selectmen he has never been involved in any way with the town, except when he was appointed to the Police Chief’s search committee. He attended a few meetings and then resigned. would he do the same thing as a selectmen ? Buzz

Michael Moore
13 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

Hi Buzz,

I don’t think that your characterization of Mr. Rooney’s comments is accurate, re: “He said last night that if an employee did something wrong he would fire them, no hearing no investigation nothing”. What I recall Mr. Rooney saying was that if conflict occurred with a town employee, his approach would be to talk to the person(s) involved and determine what the conflict was and whether it was resolvable. He than went on to say that if someone could not align their actions with town policy, they should be fired. I suspect that most employees (town or otherwise) would actually prefer working under such an understanding, rather than being subject to drawn-out investigations.

I can understand how you could interpret this in the way that you have, but I don’t think it’s an accurate interpretation.

As for Mr. Rooney’s previous involvement with and/or commitment to the town, I have no real knowledge. However, he seemed quite sincere, capable and responsible to me, though certainly not very experienced politically. His statement about why he was running gave me the impression that he had given due consideration to his decision to run, and that he was not walking into a responsibility that he would be unable to uphold.

However, the point you raise is a good one. I will be unable to attend the meeting at the library, but I hope that someone there will ask Mr. Rooney why he resigned from the Police Chief’s search committee.

John Kendall
13 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

One thing is sure…….nobody just gets fired. All employees have rights.

We Need a New Approach
13 years ago

Buzz, your suggestion that Mr. Rooney “has no understanding of the position of selectmen” is patently ridiculous, but it brings up a larger point, which is this —

What is this great and mysterious “understanding” to which you refer? [Seriously.] What do Sal and Bonnie and Bill “understand” that the rest of us don’t? Because I want to suggest to you that we not elevate Town service beyond its moorings. The BOS is a 3-person Executive of a 9,500-person Town. Not every single person in Town would be up to the task, but neither is it rocket science. [Seriously.] Yes, there are lots of tough issues and constituencies to deal with, no question. Maybe lots of us in Town wouldn’t want to tackle the job. But just about any one of us in Town that DID want to tackle it could darn well succeed at it. And so I daresay that a highly successful lawyer that for decades has owned and managed his own multi-million dollar, 80+ employee business certainly could. Being a Selectman is (or should be) about leadership and common sense. Most of the time we have to settle for a mediocre unopposed candidate who means well, but is no more qualified than that they were willing to run. When we are lucky enough to have a choice, we ought to embrace serious leadership when it is offered to us.

I remember when Bonnie Phaneuf opposed Leslie Hill, who was a young, intelligent, hard charger who had a lot to offer the Town, but who had had little formal experience in Town at the time, and Bonnie’s platform was something like “Selectman is not an Entry Level position!” or something like that. Please can we stop acting like there’s something special required here that only a few privileged people have? Over the years we have elected some great people to the BOS, but we also have elected (and re-elected) buffoons as well.

So, you can vote for John Rooney (I am) or not, but please let’s discard the idiotic notion that there’s something magical about being a Southborough Selectman that requires some ticket punched in Town. Real qualifications matter.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago

It is interesting that no one thinks twice about a novice becoming a K-8 School Committee member. The K-8 Budget is almost 3 times the budget that is controlled by the Selectmen. I for one have no problem with a political novice in either position if they have the right other qualifications.

If you believe that a Selectmen should know and want to be involved in the minutia of operations of the Police, Fire and DPW then significant experience might be a plus. However, if you believe that the Selectmen should act as an executive and define performance for department heads and hold them accountable for performance then significant executive experience is what is required, it is the job of the department heads to manage the details and be held accountable for the results.

I think the current board focus too much on the details and not enough on the vision and executive oversight.

13 years ago

Buzz, You must have been at a different meeting than everyone else. Rooney said he would sit down with the employee, explore the issues, have open discussion, attempt to resolve the matter and then if the employee was unable to conform to the town’s policies or state law, the employee would be shown the door. I was sitting right in front of him and listened carefully and even made some notes. Mr. Moore’s recollection is exactly the same as mine.

Rooney also said, and it was reported accurately by the author of this site, that there was a perception that executive session was invoked too much and that it should not be in such cases as the Deep Dish investigation. And, if you look at the policy Mr. Giorlandino refers to in support of his investigation, there is no support in that document for the emergency executive session.

I was on the fence before the meeting because I know and like Mr. Giorlandino. I am not anymore. While I still like Mr. Giorlandino, this town needs leadership and needs it now more than ever.

and although I was on the fence with my vote before the meeting, I am no longer.

Bryan S
13 years ago

I attended the Meet the Candidates Session last Monday night and here are my thoughts. First, thanks to the Southborough Town Democratic Committee, who hosted the event, if I am correct. No matter your political leanings, I think we can all agree that forums like these are valuable to the community, so kudos to them for hosting these forums.

Second, thanks and congratulations to all of the candidates; anyone who sincerely pursues public service to the town in either elected, appointed, or strictly voluntary roles deserves credit and respect for that.

As for the most prominent of the contested positions, that of selectman, between incumbent Mr. Giorlandino and challenger Mr. Rooney, I support Mr. Giorlandino’s re-election. Mr. Rooney described what appears to be an admirable work ethic in his description of how he worked his way through college and law school and made his way into the business world, but I don’t think that in itself is a particularly compelling qualification for the public service role and the demands of a member of the BOS. Mr. Rooney acknowledged that he has had no prior town government experience and that it has only been in the last month that he has gotten involved in the BOS race. While we shouldn’t require that people running for town offices necessarily have a lifetime of public office experience, I do think it is important to have some level of public office experience before seeking the highest elected office in town government. Mr. Rooney stated that he felt that his private business leadership experience would be an asset, but then he described an example of how he would handle a personnel situation that showed a naiveté about the types of limitations that public sector leaders often face in such situations. Finally, in my opinion, Mr. Rooney was not able to articulate a clear or compelling motivation for his candidacy, other than a very broadly and loosely described concern about government transparency. In fact, Mr. Giorlandino provided a very clear and reasonable response to Mr. Rooney’s questions about transparency and the use of executive session, both in general and as it relates to the situation with the town employees. He made it clear that the BOS has used executive session unanimously and judiciously, only for issues for which it is designated, and that the investigation being discussed most recently was simply the BOS meeting its responsibilities when a formal complaint is filed. In summary, Mr. Rooney, while he may be a fine individual, came across to me as a one-issue candidate with limited perspectives or ideas on other key town issues and no prior experience in the workings of public office.

Mr. Giorlandino described a somewhat similar background of hard work to attain the educational and professional success that he has achieved, but on top of that, it is also clear that Mr. Giorlandino has, for most of his adult life, dedicated himself to public service, such as in his 17 years (if I recall properly) on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, his professional career with the EPA, and his experience as an incumbent BOS member. I have had experience, directly on a few occasions, and indirectly on several others, to observe Mr. Giorlandino’s handling of various town issues, and I have observed him to be extremely reasonable, fair, and committed to the best interests of the town. These characteristics, plus his experience and demonstrated commitment to public service, and his willingness to take on – and persevere through – difficult issues, such as the town budgeting process in these tough economic times and meeting the responsibilities of the BOS (along with the other 2 BOS members) in recently-discussed town personnel issues, despite their unpopularity with a small group of people (who seem, quite frankly, to have a specific agenda against him), are several of the reasons why I will be supporting Mr. Giorlandino for re-election to the BOS.

Related to another contested race, I would also like to convey my support for Andrew Mills for the Planning Board. I have had occasion to see the direct actions or indirect results of Mr. Mills’ leadership of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), on which he currently serves as chair, and I have never failed to be impressed with his character, commitment, integrity, and results. Mr. Mills has demonstrated a very strong commitment to public service and to the best interests of the town of Southborough, and he will bring a very important perspective to the Planning Board, to help maintain the character and qualities of the town that we all value so much.

  • © 2024 — All rights reserved.