Opinion: Rooney’s resignation is based on his ethical stance (not a result of the complaint)

Yesterday, I wrote of Selectman John Rooney’s resignation – to be effective May 2018 – that he cited as his reasons “as based on his unyielding principals.”

That wasn’t meant to be sarcastic. I actually believe that he is taking a stance based on principals very important to him. I believe he is fighting to protect his vision of what Southborough Town Government should be.

Based on his track record in serving this town, I have great respect for Selectman Rooney. So I will repeat my opinion from the headline: Rooney’s resignation is not because of ethics complaint, it is based on his ethical stance.

I began observing meetings when I started transitioning to take over the blog in spring 2013. Since then, I have observed Selectman John Rooney work tirelessly for this Town. I have always believed he was trying to do right by the Town and residents.*

But when I began to write about his resignation, I also learned of the ethics complaint. I believed I needed to share that with readers, too. And I believed that sharing both within a day, even in separate posts would lead many readers (already suspicious of Town officials) to question his real motives.

And, I actually do see them as related items – but not in the way they came across in yesterday’s post. Instead, I see it as an example of the environment in which Rooney made his decision. (I’ll explain that further down.)

I tried to write an objective balanced post laying out all the facts – hoping that the facts would lead people to the same conclusions as me. But, I don’t have the benefit of an editor to check my work. Because I’m a lone blogger, I have to rely on readers’ comments for that.

Based on what I heard back, there are enough people misinterpreting my intentions to show that I seriously failed.

I updated the post and provided explanation in comments and told myself that I did all I could. But it still gnawed at me, because it wasn’t ALL I could do.

I could do this – I could clearly state my opinions.

It’s something that I try not to do when I “report” Town government news. After all, who am I to tell you that I’m right. I’m not omnicient. I just have the facts that I’ve observed and my own gut. So, I try to share the facts and let you draw your own conclusions.

Of course, I have biases about what is important to include. If I watch a three hour meeting, I can’t share everything. I have to decide what is important to share. But if I include a point from one “side” on an issue, I try to include the rebutting view point from the other “side”.

But when trying to “balance” facts yesterday, I led some (maybe many) readers to believe that some of my conclusions are very different from what they are. Our selectman deserves better treatment.*

One of the reasons I didn’t reach out to Mr. Rooney is because I didn’t believe it was necessary. He laid out his reasons for his resignation clearly in his letter. So I used his words to explain them. Not all, because it was a 3 1/2 page letter. So I quoted the excerpts that I thought were the most important to share. 

At the same time, I purposely didn’t state in the headline or excerpt that his reasons for resigning were unrelated to the complaint. Because, to me they aren’t. But explaining how they are related would have required giving my opinion. It was leaving that observation out (while still not defining his decision as unrelated) that made my story a mess.

Since I am sharing my opinion today – here is how I see them as related.

In his letter, Rooney points to his opposition of residents trying to “coerce” elected officials into making political decisions that fit with theirs. The complaint that was filed earlier this month is part of that environment.

I do believe that resident have the right to question if an ethical line was crossed when Rooney and Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf participated in the August 2nd meeting with then-Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Leo Bartolini. (You can read more about that in yesterday’s post.)

I believe both Rooney and Phaneuf were trying to do what was right for the Town without any nefarious intent. But they may have made a mistake. Where the line is between their ability to act and their conflict of interest regarding Park Central has been very blurry. And it does seem to be a question for the Ethics Board as to whether they crossed it or not.

And yet, if Rooney and Phaneuf had sided with those looking to oust Bartolini, it is highly unlikely the complaint would have been filed. If one had been, it likely would have been from people opposing Bartolini’s removal.

Our government officials aren’t infallible. And we do need to hold them accountable to us. But I keep hearing accusations from people who seem to believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire. (In fact, I hear more of it when I walk around town than I read in comments on the blog.)

Many residents seem to jump to – if a Town official has a different view point than mine – not only is he wrong, he is probably in someone’s pocket. If someone makes a misstep – it was clearly motivated. And I personally don’t believe it.

I’m not saying that I agree with Rooney’s opposition to the recall article. (Frankly, I’m still undecided on it. And since details are still likely to change, I’m waiting to see a final version before deciding how I vote.)

But I do believe that when residents passionately disagree with our Town officials, their response is often to try to “coerce” them to make the “right” actions.

In his letter, Rooney made clear that he believes that officials should make decisions based on their principals and not because they are being coerced by a group of residents.

I support residents’ right to fight for what they believe in. But I also support Rooney’s stance on his principals.

That said – all of this is just one blogger’s opinions. You are free to form your own.

*I have seen Rooney work “across aisles” to try to find middle ground and compromises in times of controversy. He has clearly put in a lot of efforts attending other committee meetings to learn what is happening, meeting with individuals, working on solutions, etc.

I’ve heard him advocate for more open and transparent government, making suggestions to try to improve it. Sometimes he’s made decisions I disagreed with – because no one is in agreement on everything. But I never doubted his explained motives.

**Rooney believes that I should have reached out to him when the issue of his resignation and the ethics complaint came up. In retrospect he’s right for at least two reasons: 

  • He has generally made an effort to be accessible and communicate with the public through this blog. (Not all officials do.)
  • I would have learned and been able to state at the outset that he informed the Town Administrator of his intent to resign on March 9th, not after the complaint was filed.

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5 years ago

Thanks Beth– I think the original article was clear. We appreciate your reporting.

mark dassoni
5 years ago

article start to end is now as it was before, people who are not doing and taking heat from all sides just doesn’t appreciate what they stand for it wrong ,I been ask why not run for town board position ? I always answer: I like to keep my friends, plus I am my own observer, so as all know me at meetings I introduce myself and I get responses from all in room and I go from there, in Ashland I done this for over 20 years, as I said in beginning this article is my participation life, To Mark Purple thank you for letting me be part of your town I appreciate it I made friends with citizens, Mr Bartolini we spoke once and he knows my views, that what I do. my motto always is: If you hear only 1 side you”re not hearing everything, If you say you know all by only saying that and it come”s out wrong than you misheard and only heard hear say which turns truth to a doubting thing ,hear all,say all, and you know all,lastly to Alexandra Rooney positive is what I strive for. Mark Dassoni .

Betsy Rosenbloom
5 years ago

Thank you Beth – both for this post and for your tireless efforts to keep the citizens informed. As someone commented elsewhere on this blog, you perform a huge service to the residents of this town who would otherwise not get a fraction of this news. Are you perfect? No. Do I always agree with your word choices? No. But you are conscientious, responsible, open to criticism and willing to hear alternative points of view. When you believe you could have done better, you say so – and you try to do better. Your post here speaks to your character very eloquently. For those of you who don’t think Beth is doing a good job, start your own blog before you judge her!

mark dassoni
5 years ago

to Betsy: I agree 100%,i never judge by hearsay or opinions I form my own agenda by all sides I hear from never before, Mark Dassoni .

Julie Connelly
5 years ago

Thank you, Beth. You provide an incredible service to Southborough with this blog and I appreciate your dedication to getting your facts correct (and sometimes commenters’ facts too!) .

John Kendall
5 years ago

What a sad commentary that Mr. Rooney feels the need to resign. He’s done more for the town as a whole than many others have. I wish he would reconsider. It’s a shame that many relative newcomers have sought to alter not only how the town operates, by the way of life in town that a lot of us have seen disappear. A sad commentary indeed.

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