Selectmen say they made policy changes in response to complaint

Late last year Southborough resident Nancy Vargas submitted at 240-page complaint to the town and to the attorney general’s office alleging misuse of funds and an array of Open Meeting Law violations. Selectmen said this week that policy changes were made in response to the complaint.

“The Board of Selectmen took the complaint seriously,” Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said on Tuesday. “It’s being handled.”

The complaint relates to work by the now-disbanded Municipal Facilities Committee and town employees on plans for a new police station. In her complaint Vargas alleges among other things that committee members colluded with town officials to ensure a new building would be constructed instead of the existing one being preserved and renovated.

Vargas also claimed that certain committee members and town employees kept information from taxpayers and other members of the Facilities Committee.

The Metrowest Daily News has a report on just what changes the town made in response to Vargas’ complaint.

According to a letter from selectmen chairwoman Bonnie Phaneuf to the attorney general’s office, the town made changes last November to the committee handbook, e-mail policy and professional conduct policy after reading Vargas’ complaint.

Much of the new language reiterates the importance of topics such as proper and timely minute-taking and adherence to Open Meeting Law. But other additions are more substantive and seem to relate directly to Vargas’ complaint, which alleges that committee members and town employees hid information from her while she was on the Municipal Facilities Committee.

Selectman Bill Boland said the town issued a report in response to Vargas’ complaint, but said he could not comment further because the attorney general’s office still considers the case open.

If you haven’t seen it, there is an active (and blessedly civil) discussion happening over on this post about what the community can learn from the Vargas complaint and what changes we as a town should make in response. Check it out here.

Related stories:
Former committee member alleges misuse of funds and other wrongdoing
Committee recommends against new police station design

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Al Hamilton
12 years ago

I think it is important to note that these new guidelines, passed by the Selectmen can only apply to boards over which they have authority. The Selectmen have no authority over Schools for example so the K-8 and Regional School committees would have to adopt these rules for them to go into effect for those organizations. Further, there are other independent executives that are not covered, including the Planning Board, Board of Assessors, Town Clerk, and Board of Library Trustees. These rules also do not apply to any legislative committee including Advisory, Personnel, and Capital Budget. To apply to them I believe would require the approval of Town Meeting.

Plastering rule upon rule upon rule is a good way to make lawyers rich and we are doing our best to achieve this goal but I doubt it is a good way to proceed. For example, when I served on Advisory I did a number in informal independent investigations into items that were of interest to me and then did an analysis which I then presented to the Committee. Before I presented the data and analysis I often reviewed it with one or 2 members (never a quorum) who’s opinion and viewpoints I thought might be helpful to me in my work. Others did the same. Would I now be hauled before the AG or other Inquisitor if I did that? Would I be accused of hording information? How does that help our community?

I think it would be better to recognize things as they are rather than how we wish they would be in a “perfect” world. Appointed boards reflect the goals, aspirations and agendas of the appointing bodies, and they should. They are not some sterile calculating machine that engages only in critiques of pure logic. They are flesh and blood and every board in this town has a majority with an agenda either public or hidden. If we have a problem with the appointed board then we should bring pressure to bear on the appointers who are elected. This of course might be uncomfortable for our elected officials but that is what we have elections for.

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