Town Meeting opts for compromise in Southborough Eight reimbursement

Reading the comments on this blog, you might have expected fireworks on the floor of Town Meeting when it came time to discuss the question of whether to reimburse town employees for legal fees incurred during the Southborough Eight investigation. That’s not how it turned out.

Cool heads prevailed on Tuesday as Town Meeting accepted a compromise plan, allocating to the employees 50 percent of the requested reimbursement, for a total of $7,124.

Oak Hill Road resident Roger Challen, a former selectman, proposed the compromise, saying it was a fair way to resolve the issue. “I’m hopeful that this compromise would leave the highest number of people satisfied that there was some level of fairness,” Challen said.

Selectman John Rooney said he previously discussed the proposal with the employees involved, and they supported the compromise “in an effort to start healing these wounds.”

Former Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf, who sat on the board during the Southborough Eight investigation, had spoken out against reimbursement in the days leading up to Town Meeting, but last night she said she supported the compromise. “This body needs to make a decision to put this behind us,” she said. “I think this is a compromise we all can live with.”

The desire to close the book on what many have called an ugly chapter in the town’s history, was a prevalent attitude last night.

“What happened happened,” Rooney told voters as he introduced the reimbursement article. “What’s more important is that we look forwad as a community to the future and put this to rest.”

Before the compromise plan was proposed, Deerfoot Road resident Michael Moore made a motion to make reimbursement dependent on the employees signing a release stating that they considered the issue closed.

Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano said the language would not be legally binding, and that the Board of Selectmen would ensure in the normal course of business that all appropriate releases were signed before reimbursing the employees. He also said the Town Accountant would verify expenses before issuing a payment.

Asked if voting to reimburse would set a precedent, Cirpiano answered that it could, but said the issue had been thoroughly reviewed with the state Department of Revenue. “Town Meeting shouldn’t be concerned that a precedent is set. Whatever decision is made by this body, my office will defend it,” Cipriano said.

Both the motion to reduce the amount of the reimbursement, and the motion to appropriate the funds passed by a wide margin.

So what do you think, folks? Almost exactly one year after news of the investigation broke, does last night’s vote close the book on this one for you? As always, share your thoughts in the comments.

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Kelly Roney
13 years ago

I would have argued for no reimbursement, but this was a compromise to get past this, so I voted for it.

One thing that made me unhappy: John Rooney moved the article, then discussed it at some length while asking us not to discuss it. I thought that was inappropriate.

Paul Cimino
13 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

Mr. Roney,

I agree with you that Mr. Rooney did speak at some length, but he did not discuss the substance of the question; rather, he acknowledged the strong opinions on both sides and urged everyone to vote it and move on. He did speak again after Mr. Challen’s amendment, urging adoption of it. Several times he acknowledged that “we could debate this all night if we want to” but that he believed that there were more important things still to come on the Warrant (I happened to agree with him on that). Respectfully, I just think that your post is a little misleading to those who were not there, by implying that Mr. Rooney advocated at length for one side of the debate and tried to shut down the other side, neither of which he did.

As it is, I would have voted for full reimbursement, but also voted for the compromise, so perhaps Mr. Challen is to be most commended here!

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