MWDN updates on town controversies: Advisory on layoff; former ZBA chief on handling of Park Central

The Metrowest Daily News has posted two new stories related to ongoing controversies in town government.

In the first story, MWDN covers last night’s Advisory Committee Meeting. In light of the recent layoff of the cemetery supervisor, Advisory members revisited the DPW budget presentation made prior to Town Meeting.

Members agreed that they had no recollection or records supporting that they were told about the possible layoff.

The second report focuses on comments made by former Zoning Board of Appeals chair Sam Stivers. Stivers criticized town officials for pressuring the ZBA to deny a permit for the proposed 40B development at Park Central.

As reported yesterday, the denial was overturned. The development is back on the permitting track. Meanwhile, the developer has withdrawn his planned offering of close to $500,000 in mitigation funds to the town.

Here are the excerpts from and links to those stories.

Layoff discussion questioned – MWDN/Southborough Wicked Local:

Contrary to statements made by Town Administrator Mark Purple several weeks ago, financial Advisory Committee members Wednesday said they had no recollection of any mention of a cemetery layoff during budget discussions this winter. . .

Wood Wednesday took a straw poll in which all seven of the members of the board present at the Feb. 24 budget discussion said they didn’t recall any layoff mentioned.

Member Kathryn Cook said she was “100 percent positive” that DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan didn’t mention the possibility of a layoff.

“She absolutely led us to believe that (budget savings) was going to be effected through retirements,” she said.

Sam Stivers, who took the minutes of the meeting, said he did not have anything in his notes relating to any layoff. . .

[On May 13, Town Administrator Mark Purple] said Galligan had in fact mentioned the possibility of the layoff, adding it was unfortunate the meeting wasn’t taped. . .

Asked about the discrepancy in his recollection afterward, Purple replied, “If eight people think it wasn’t said, than obviously it needed to be said more effectively.” . . .

Reached Wednesday night, Galligan said she “thought for sure there was an understanding there was a layoff.

“We weren’t hiding it,” she said. “I thought we had communicated it, but apparently not well.” (Read more)

Southborough: Former ZBA chairman blasts officials over 40B decision – MWDN

Former Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Sam Stivers Wednesday called on Selectmen to investigate a failed ZBA attempt to derail an unpopular affordable housing project on Rte. 9 that he believes may have been unduly influenced by town employees.

“I’m very concerned that the town administration was apparently trying to make decisions for the ZBA and then that the ZBA was apparently willing to roll over in response to this extraordinarily inappropriate pressure,” Stivers wrote in a statement. . .

Stivers said Wednesday that ZBA Chairman Leo Bartolini recently told him and Selectman Paul Cimino that he felt he had “no choice” but to advocate for the denial after Town Administrator Mark Purple called a meeting with him on the topic.

“I urge our new Board of Selectmen to thoroughly investigate what actually happened here and to hold accountable anyone found acting inappropriately —and do this in open session,” Stivers wrote. “There appears to be a clear need to either get everyone properly trained and managed so that they behave consistently with the important ‘separation of powers’ structure intended for the ZBA or get new people in these important positions who understand the intent of this structure and are prepared to work within (it).”

Bartolini Wednesday acknowledged that he told Stivers he felt pressured by Purple into making the decision. However, he also said he ultimately believes the correct decision was made.

“We did what we thought was proper for everyone,” he said, adding he believes neighbors might have sued the town had it not given the denial a try.

Purple, Town Planner Jennifer Burney and Selectman Chairman Bill Boland Wednesday strongly denied any intimation that town employees pressured the ZBA to do anything. (Read more)

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Just Curious
8 years ago

Wow! Take a moment and follow the link (read more) in the DPW story and you’ll go to the MWDN/Southborough Wicked Local site to read Brad P’s story. Brad writes “Purple said Galligan could speak better to the specifics of what the Advisory Committee was told because, while he was there, she made the actual presentation.”

So the town administrator had multiple discussions during the budget process with Ms. Galligan, he knew exactly what the plan was, and he was in the meeting during the presentation to Advisory. Yet he essentially says, “Don’t ask me what was said. Ask Karen.”

I do not appreciate this display of poor leadership and failure to take responsibility for this decision. Ms. Galigan did not act in a vacuum. Mr. Purple was fully aware of what was planned, what was said and what was NOT said.

In another part of the story, Mr. Purple comments on all 8 members of advisory saying the layoff was not mentioned at the meeting. Mr. Purple’s comment “If eight people think it wasn’t said, than obviously it needed to be said more effectively.” . . . Perhaps a more candid response from Mr. Purple would have been, “We should have mentioned a proposed layoff.”

Very disappointing.

“The more that government becomes secret, the less it remains free.” James Russell Wiggins

John Butler
8 years ago

Just Curious,

I think it is actually more emphatic than that. The only reason I remember the meeting is that in the meeting I couldn’t figure out why Ms. Galligan was saying, at the end of her discussion with us, that the plan might have difficulty with the Board of Selectmen. So I challenged her in the meeting by saying, “Why would you suppose that the BOS will have any problem with your effecting staff reductions via retirement? What could be their problem with that? She said something like, “I don’t know but it might not be accepted.” I said to her, “Well, if you want me to come to their meeting to help pitch this idea, I will.” Sam Stivers said at Wednesday’s meeting that he remembered my asking the question because he said that, if I hadn’t asked that, he was going to ask it. That whole conversation makes no sense if the possibility of a layoff had ever been mentioned. In that case, of course we would understand why the BOS might object. But then, as members noted on Wednesday, Advisory Committee would have had a lot of other questions also about the layoff possibility and impact.

Later, before Town Meeting I saw Ms. Galligan again and said, “How did it go?” She said, “No problem. They (the BOS) didn’t ask any questions.” “Great” I said.

In that meeting we were actually in possession of the budget in which the employee and position had been omitted. Then in April there was this sequence of events: the union was warned in writing of the possibility of a layoff; then Town Meeting was told in writing the budget level was based on retirements with no mention of a layoff and Town Meeting passed that budget; the employee was then laid off with a justification of the budget that Town Meeting passed.

Readers can decide if that sequence can fit comfortably under the description “not saying it effectively”. The longer we get descriptions like that, the longer this miserable topic goes on.

Here’s a way to start to end this topic. Someone needs to say, “We’re very sorry. We made mistakes. We’re in the process of correcting the mistakes and writing policy so that these kinds of mistakes don’t happen in the future. Those corrections will be visible and the policy will be available for discussion in public sessions in the near future.”

As always, these are my views alone, not those of Advisory Committee.

Just Curious
8 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Mr. Butler,

At lunch today, I tried to explain this controversy to a co-worker who has never been to Southborough. She listened to this tale of woe, then asked me which is more significant to me: 1) the DPW Director and the Town Administrator planning to terminate an employee or 2) the DPW Director, Town Administrator and some of the Selectmen withholding the planned layoff from the towns people and Advisory.

After some reflection, I chose #2, the withholding of the information.

Clearly, the DPW Director and Town Administrator do not need to get the approval from the town citizens for personnel decisions. In fact, that would be a miserable way to run this town. It would lead to all kinds of bad decisions.

Her next question was do I believe the DPW Director, Town Administrator and some of the Selectmen deliberately withheld the planned layoff information and deliberately mislead the people at Town Meeting and the Advisory Committee.

Now that is the question that needs to be resolved. Was this a deliberate attempt to mislead everyone. If that turns out to be the case then the Selectmen have a major problem to resolve. It is hard won win back someone’s trust once that trust is lost.

I hope Mr. Rooney’s public records request will help answer this question.

I need to have lunch with this lady more often!

John Butler
8 years ago
Reply to  Just Curious

Just Curious,
I agree that legally and prudently it is clear that the Town management and Board of Selectmen do not need approval of Town Meeting for personnel decisions, including layoffs. On the other hand management seems to have chosen to assign responsibility for the layoff to the budget level voted by Town Meeting, while Town Meeting was not given actually available information to decide on a budget level that it might have wanted. That is not “full disclosure”, not a way to run this Town.

It points to the fact that the standard of “deliberately withheld” that you mention is not the appropriate standard for our governance. If Mr. Rooney finds that we cannot prove “deliberately withheld” he may decide to declare confidence in management, but that doesn’t tell me we can govern with these standards. We cannot operate merely with “less than provable perjury” between the executive and appropriating authorities.

We, the citizens who gather to tax ourselves via Town Meeting, need “affirmative full disclosure” and I think we need to begin to codify what this obligation means, as precondition for our voting the levy. Although I would not yet jump to the contortions that occur when CFO meets with counsel and auditors to review the draft 10Q, something like a “disclosure adequacy” frame of mind needs to be established for the future, with affirmative written declarations of compliance.

So, even if we weren’t deliberately misled, neither did we meet a standard of disclosure that would allow our structure of government to operate. We need to think about how to fix this.

As always, I write my views here, not those of any other body.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

Lost in all of this mess is the fact that the underlying goal was fundamentally positive. Mr. Purple and Ms Galligan were trying to find a way to deliver an important service on a more cost effective basis than was done in the past. They did an abysmal job of informing people who had oversight responsibility about the real consequences of their action (I think that is a charitable description).

I hope that the lesson that comes out of this affair is not that “We will never try to change anything ever again” but rather “We have more work to do and the lesson is that, next time, we have to communicate the whole plan and its possible impacts clearly and forthrightly”

We hired Mr. Purple and empowered him to run the day to day operations of our Municipal government. This was a big change from the way we have operated for the last 285 years. There were bound to be some growing pains. I agree with Mr. Butler. The right way to put this mess behind us is to say “We screwed up. We have learned from the mistake and it will not happen again.”

The status quo of our governments financial structure is not sustainable. We have to change. We will make more mistakes as we try to make our public sector more efficient. When we do the proper course of action is to admit that you made a mistake, fix it quickly and move forward. Anything else is a recipe for misery.

Resident
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I will be less charitable. There was clearly an effort to hide a significant part of the proposal so that there would be no resistance. This is typical of Ms. Galligan in my opinion and frightening and disappointing coming from Mr. Purple (if in fact he knew ahead of time and is not just helping with damage control after the fact).

Alan
8 years ago

The understanding I got from Karan Galligan was the towns savings were a total of $3000.00 by privatizing the cemetery. Yet she cleverly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars by hiding equipment purchases on two separate articles at town meeting. Interesting.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Alan

It is hard to know what (if any) the true savings are. Town budgets are not designed to provide clear information on the true cost of a service or department.

For example, the police department uses about 25,000 gallons of gasoline a year. But the cost of that gasoline is in the DPW budget. Likewise, benefits including health care and retirements are not in department budgets.

For example, the true cost to taxpayers of running the Fire Department is probably closer $2.5 to $3.0 million per year rather than the $1.8 million per year that we appropriated. The difference is equipment costs, fuel, benefits, retirement, and facilities. (Note, I am not picking on the Fire Dept. just using it as an example the same is true for the DPW, Police, Library and Rec., etc)

So it is possible that the savings in the DPW budget were only $3000 but the savings in other budgets could bring the total savings well into 5 figures. Of course, it is hard to know. Had we had a very public discussion about this move including the possibility of a layoff there might have at least been a consensus of what the benefits and costs were regardless of how you weigh them.

We owe it to taxpayers to provide governmental services on the most cost effective basis practical. We should never forget that we force those of limited means to pay taxes on the same basis as those of substantial means and that those taxes cause real hardship for some of our citizens. We owe it to them and all taxpayers when we take their money to deliver efficient and effective and transparent services. To do otherwise is a form of theft.

Alan
8 years ago

Thanks Al.

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