John Rooney walks away from BOS; fellow selectmen express shock and dismay

Mid-Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, member John Rooney shocked the room by changing the effective date of his resignation from one year out to immediately.

The selectman ended his close to seven years in office with a short passionate speech about the importance of his integrity. He said he no longer had the appetite for the “factional crusade of assumption” that questioned his ethics. (You can view his full speech above or scroll down to read it.)

Rooney pointed to deadlines for the upcoming Town election as reason step down now.* He concluded by saying that he was “figuratively and literally dropping the mic”.

Following his departure, fellow selectmen shared their shock and dismay over his resignation and the situation that led to it. And they lauded him for his tireless efforts on behalf of the Town.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf emotionally told the audience:

We just lost a great resource on this board. . . we lost a great man this evening.

They were sentiments echoed by Selectman Dan Kolenda who referred to Rooney as having “the highest ethical standards I’ve ever seen”. He said that Rooney “didn’t deserve the arrows” and told Phaneuf neither did she.

Between Phaneuf’s comments about Rooney, she addressed the ethics complaint filed against both of them. To those who disagreed with her actions in past months, she explained:

My purpose was to defend this Town when I thought it was the right time to defend it. Now my ethics is being called into question. I’m not leaving this seat. I will fight those complaints, because when I participated in meetings, it was in the interest of this community.

Selectman Paul Cimino stated:

The anonymous folks behind the ethics charges against Mr. Rooney and Mrs. Phaneuf are shamefully grasping at straws.

Cimino pointed to Attorney Gary Brackett’s reference to the 170 signatories on a petition as the clients he represented in filing an ethics complaint against Rooney and Phaneuf.**

But that petition was to remove Leo Bartolini from the Zoning Board of Appeals. It made no reference to any charges against Rooney or Phaneuf. In fact the petition thanked Selectmen for their actions in an August 2nd meeting. But now, Rooney’s and Phaneuf’s participation in that meeting is the main source of the attorney’s complaint.

Cimino followed:

It’s cowardly that no one wants to take responsibility for that filing. . . Mr. Rooney has served our town tirelessly without need of thanks for almost 8 years. He’s the prototype of a selectman that we all need, if not deserve. All the rest of us should aspire to be what Mr. Rooney was.

Cimino said that under Rooney’s tenure the board has tackled more weighty issues than he could remember at any other time. And regardless of how people sided on an issue, it was hard work over months/years. In the end those projects came to Town Meeting voters to decide. But without work by selectmen like Rooney, there would be nothing for Town Meeting to vote on.

In Rooney’s earlier statement he said that he had been subject of much discussion that:

has called into question my ethics, my values, my decision making ability, essentially who I am. In my line of professional work, I have for 35 years (although I may not look it) spent every day guarding and solidifying my integrity, and only a fool would believe that the activities in this forum do not impact one’s professional life.

I give all of the members of the board here tremendous credit for your perseverance, in particular Ms. Phaneuf who has been the recipients of slings and arrows the longest.

For me, it has become more and more difficult to convince people, as well as myself, that serving the Town in this capacity is worth it.

The factional crusade of assumption is something I no longer have any appetite for. And since I’ve already made my decision to step down, it only makes sense, given the upcoming election cycle for me to do so immediately.

So for those in the audience who happen to have the great fortune of being younger than me, I am right now figuratively and literally dropping the mic.

Rooney said his goodbyes to fellow board members, then left the meeting.

Again, you can see Rooney’s full speech and more of selectmen’s reactions in the Southborough Access Media video above.

Editor’s Note: I’m sure there are those who will blame my story on the ethics complaint last week for pushing Rooney to move up his resignation. The belief that I contributed to his decision makes me ill.

And I again apologize for sloppy writing that led many to believe I was implying that Rooney was resigning for reasons other than what he had stated.

As I clarified in a follow up piece last week, I believe that Rooney has always acted with integrity in serving the Town.

I do believe that because lines around the conflict of interest on that August 2nd meeting were blurry, mistakes may have been made. But I don’t believe there was any nefarious intent. I believe that both Rooney and Phaneuf were trying to do what was right for the Town.

And I believed Rooney’s stated reasons for initially giving one year’s notice on his resignation.

*April 6th is the deadline for changes to candidates on the Town ballot. I presume that means the Town has a short window to make changes to the ballot to allow election of a replacement.

However, Rooney’s term was set to expire in May 2019. Current candidates filed papers to run for the two seats with three year terms that run to May 2020. And the deadline for filing papers has passed. So, I’m unclear how Rooney’s vacancy will be handled. That is something I will have to follow up on.

**Though Brackett refers to representing the clients, his letter says that he is making the complaint. But within the letter, he refers to the petitioners/clients as having discovered the conflict of interest issues in the course of the removal hearings process. And he says that the petitioners were aggrieved by the purported conflict.

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John Rooney
7 years ago

Ms. Melo, Please do not think you or your writings had anything to do with my decision. My decision and my memorandum to the Department Heads announcing me stepping down immediately was drafted and sent to the Town Administrator on March 9, 2017, long before any ethics allegation or your postings. Its delayed public delivery was because others temporarily convinced me to reconsider my decision.

The assumptions that there is any causal connection between your writings and my decision are similar to the assumptions so many of us face on a daily basis – without merit and left to the targeted individual to dispute.

Unfortunately, and do not take this personally, you are not the story.

Thank you for your service to the town and I hope your intestinal fortitude can last more than seven years. JR

John Butler
7 years ago

Mr. Rooney served us with great compassion for his fellow citizens, and with intelligence, energy, and integrity. I am very sorry to see him leave the Board.

7 years ago

I’m very disappointed, yet I completely understand Mr. Rooney’s decision. I want to thank him for serving Southborough well during his tenure. He will be missed!

7 years ago

Thanks for your years of service, Mr. Rooney.
Although I didn’t always agree with your positions on issues, it was clear that you were always doing what you thought was in the best interest of the town.

Al Hamilton
7 years ago

I also regret, but understand, John’s decision to leave. Thank you for your years of service.

Mark Ford
7 years ago

Thank you Mr. Rooney. You’ll be missed, and I’m sorry it ended on such a sour note.

Senior Citizen
7 years ago

I started thinking about Mr. Cimino’s comment about accomplishments in the recent past, so I did a search on Mr. Rooney on this site.

There are way too many issues to list. Having spent time with him at the Senior Center, I know he would say these were all Board accomplishments. Some of the most important things (in my mind) it appears he was either the primary person or a part of and were established during his tenure, in no particular order:

Primary person on the Gulbankian resolution and lawsuits saving the town tens of thousands
Resolved the Algonquin regional agreement law suit, again saving us tax payers tens of thousands
Met with bond company and we got a AAA Bond Rating
The Main Street redesign committee that ultimately achieved consensus with so many;
Main Street reconstruction Article
Negotiator with St. Mark’s for purchasing and saving the golf course;
Public Safety Building Committee
Creation of St. Mark’s Building Committee
Negotiator with Mr. Parry and Mr. Wilson’s group to save the golf course
Primary negotiator with Cimino in saving the Burnett House
Economic Development Committee was created and staffed
We became a Green Community (to my surprise, he also served on the Green Tech. Committee)
Purchase and Sale of at least three affordable houses (he was on that Committee also)
Medical pot agreement
Sex offender bylaw revised and approved by AG
Sidewalk Reconstruction Committee
New Public Safety Chiefs
Renegotiated PILOT deal with St. Mark’s and Fay and got new the town cruisers
New Town website
Negotiated lease with DOT on 911 field
Stabilization Fund policy
Cemetery reorganization
Town building redesigns
Wage and Salary survey
Citizen Survey
Town Employee Practices policies
Police Lieutenant policy
Town Administrator bylaw
Appointed to MA Selectmen’s Assoc.
Numerous police/fire/CBA deals
Tried but failed to save the cows at Breakneck Hill
Senior Center – I list this because he visits often, we love him, and he was always a welcomed participant in the Dull Men’s Club
Worked with Veterans and Mr. Wilson
On subcommittee with Ms. Murdock and the school committee to analyze building needs
He does not like the Swap Shop (forgot about that)
Tried to get us to a PAYT town
Read books to your kids at Finn.

And these are only SOME things that popped up. I’m sure the things we do not know about would triple the size of this list.

I’d say he served us well.

Paul Cimino
7 years ago
Reply to  Senior Citizen

Senior Citizen,

Thanks for your research — it’s indeed a remarkable list. And it’s worth remembering that the tremendous amount of effort and perseverance represented here is the same regardless of your view of the ultimate outcome of these items. Those are huge shoes we have to try to fill now.

Paul Cimino

Frank Crowell
7 years ago
Reply to  Senior Citizen

Senior Citizen – That is some list – not sure you missed much.

I never had the chance to meet Mr Rooney but I do thank him for his service and wish him well. I hope he runs for K-8 school committee so he can finally get an answer to his famous question: Why do SB schools cost more to run than Shrewsbury school system?

Julie Connelly
7 years ago

John, thank you for your service to Southborough, and, Beth, thank you for covering this story and so many others with such dedication and grace.

Steve Whynot
7 years ago

John – It was just this morning that I learned the unsettling and disappointing news that you have stepped away from the Board of Selectman.
Your announcement at the April 3rd Meeting was sincerely moving – I know it was straight from the heart. You have my highest respect for walking away with Dignity and Pride.
However – I’m ashamed for the Town of Southborough, that a small number of residents who have attacked your character and question your ethics – Cannot live up to the same high standards that you hold yourself to.
I’m saddened – but fully understand your personal decision to step away.
My deepest and sincerest THANKS for all you have done to contribute to this Town and for your ongoing support to the Veterans. We’ll miss your thoughtful words at Memorial Day and Veterans Day Observances.
Sadly – The residents of Southborough have lost a good friend and honorable man.

Joe Kacevich
7 years ago

Senior Citizen,
That is some list. If “character” can be defined as “what you do when no one is looking” or “what you do when you are not looking for any credit” then I would submit the numerous times that I observed Mr. Rooney bringing donuts to the DPW workers at the Transfer Station. A small, but very revealing gesture.The man truly cares about everyone in town and will be sorely missed.
Joe Kacevich

Al Hamilton
7 years ago

John Rooney’s resignation and the ethics complaints against him and Ms. Phaneuf are indeed regrettable and I have a hard time giving them credibility. In my opinion, the current situation will do nothing to advance the cause of citizen participation in local government, quite the opposite. Regrettable as this situation is, sober reflection requires that we face the fact that a significant part of this mess is the result of the actions or inaction’s of the Board of Selectmen.

It was the BOS actions that lead to turnover in the personnel on the ZBA which ultimately contributed to this mess. It is proper for the electorate and citizenry to hold the BOS accountable for their appointments and the performance of those they appoint. They are elected to make those appointments and to make overarching policy for the boards they appoint. They and only they are empowered by the voters to make policy their appointees only act under their authority. Hence, they must be accountable.
So, what actions could a future board take that would improve the situation. I have a few suggestions.

1. The BOS was elected to make policy. It needs to make clear public policy directives for the boards, commissions and committees it appoints and then stick to them.

2. End the practice of appointing “any warm body” to committees. Only appoint persons who are willing to embrace the board’s policy goals and work to implement them. Better a shorthanded board than one that is working against the policy goals set by the BOS. This will probably mean reducing the number of active boards.

3. Do not permit town employees to be a faction of their own. Yes, their expertise is important, but the “slow no”, or passive aggressive resistance should be sternly dealt with. Ignoring or resisting the directives of the BOS should be career limiting.

4. Develop better ways of supporting citizen volunteers. Right now the town does a very poor job of this.

I know and respect each member of the BOS. I have difficulty believing that they are ethically compromised, but they own a big piece of this mess.

Matthew Brownell
7 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Interesting post, Al.

I agree that the BOS should be clear stewards of Southborough public policy.

But I am concerned about your suggestion in #2 above, which promotes a situation where resident volunteers to Southborough’s town boards and committees are expected to be a perfunctory rubber stamp to Board of Selectmen policies. . . even when these policies are clearly dangerous , inimical, and hostile to the well-being of Southborough’s residents.

Of course, this leads to a conversation (which I’m sure will be very spirited) about last August’s ZBA approval of the Comprehensive Permit for Park Central.

Is it pure coincidence that the ZBA Park Central approval was delivered on August 25th – a late Summer doldrum time when more than 1/2 of Southborough’s resident voters were out of town on Labor Day vacation? (Think tumbleweeds, dust storms)

Could it be that the serious ethical / Conflict of Interest allegations against the 2 Selectmen and then ZBA Chairman Leo Bartolini regarding Park Central have merit?

Is it possible that the Selectmen abysmally failed the Town of Southborough in by not putting the brakes on a massive, landlocked development that will spit hundreds of daily cars & trucks onto narrow country lanes that are so ill-equipped to handle?

Will you concede that allowing vehicular traffic from Park Central to ingress/egress to Flagg Rd. presents a heightened, imminent, and foreseeable danger to neighboring residents?

Do you also agree that widening neighboring streets, installing sidewalks, removing stone walls, and cutting down specimen trees to accommodate Mr. DePietri is probably not in “the public interest”, and would change the entire character of surrounding neighborhoods? Hundreds of impacted residents should not be compelled to convert these bucolic lanes into a convenient driveway for Mr. Depietri’s Park Central development.

Candidly, I am offended by the post above by Steve Whynot , stating that he is “ashamed” by a “small number of residents” who dare to question the integrity and ethics of the Selectmen and ZBA.


Because the Selectmen, Town Counsel, and ZBA have known since last summer that these Complaints and pending litigation were forthcoming . . . and not from a small band of malcontents, but from the combined efforts of hundreds of residents impacted by this semi-floating craps game called Park Central.

So, please, spare us the DRAMA, fake appall, and John Rooney abrupt exits from BOS meetings.

These tactics hold no water. And trying to marginalize the opposition doesn’t work here, either.

Al Hamilton
7 years ago


I specifically avoided the details of the Park Central issue. I believe the central issues are actually larger.

Regarding my point 2. If, for example, the BOS were to appoint members of a particular board randomly then in fact they have no ability to guild that board under their policy pronouncements. That in turn negates their role and responsibility to make policy and turns it over to un-elected persons who can do as they please. (This is pretty much how it works today). This may be convenient from a political cover perspective but is is not good management nor is it good governance. I believe strongly that if you are appointed by an elected official you are appointed to carry out their policy objectives not your own. If you want to make policy goals then you should stand for election.

I practice what I preach. I served and chaired the Public Safety Building committee. The BOS wanted a PS building. I would have preferred a Police Station but I agreed to be on their committee and advocated for a PS building. When I could no longer support the proposed direction that the BOS was going, I resigned because it would have, in my opinion, been dishonorable to serve in their administration while opposing their policy.

In the Park Central we would have been far better served if the BOS had said something to the effect that “It is our policy to complete our affordable housing requirements as soon as possible and we expect that those we appoint to various boards to facilitate this policy” or alternatively “We expect that exceptions and waivers of our zoning by laws will only be granted on the rarest of occurrences and only in the case of hardship demonstrated by a homeowner or existing business owner but not for a major development and we expect that boards that we appoint to be guided by this principle.”

We are lucky to live in a stable democracy and hold regular elections. Those elections should mean something. It means that we place substantial authority and responsibility in those elected to guide and manage the areas under their control. There is a reason why our ancestors called them Selectmen. They were selected to run things.

I respect each of the Selectmen but the operating philosophy that has gone on for too long is to let the inmates run the asylum rather that operating as the quarterback of a well run offense. Perhaps they should each watch the second half of the Superbowl again.

Jason Roticky
7 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

“Is it pure coincidence that the ZBA Park Central approval was delivered on August 25th – a late Summer doldrum time when more than 1/2 of Southborough’s resident voters were out of town on Labor Day vacation?”

1/2 of residents were gone for Labor Day vacation??? what are you talking about? Labor day wasn’t until Sep 5 last year. 1/2 of all southboro residents take 10 days+ off for labor day?

Matthew Brownell
7 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

As usual, great post, Al.

And I can state unequivocally that you are both an honorable man, and one of best information resources on local government affairs that Southborough has ever had.

Kristin LaVault
7 years ago

This is truly disappointing. What is the incentive for others to offer their time to the community and government when this is what they are faced with after years of contributions to our town? Thank you Selectman Rooney.

Steve Whynot
7 years ago

Hey Brownell – Stay Offended… Read my statement again. I mentioned NOTHING about the BOS or ZBA… My statement was in reference to only MR. Rooney who I HIGHLY respect.

Matthew Brownell
7 years ago

Hey, Whynot –

That’s grand.

And you’re entitled to your opinion.

I guess time will tell . . .

David parry
7 years ago

Many are perplexed by the recent turn of events, and the extraordinary irony of having a highly respected Selectman be caught up in the peripheral fallout from the Park Central project, yet resign over a completely unrelated issue (see below).

The only upside is that John is now totally free to take on that unrelated issue ….. Namely the two Warrant Articles originally scheduled for Special Town Meeting, but not heard fue to lack of yime, and held over for the Annual Town Meeting on April 25, 26.

These two Articles would allow removal of elected and appointed officials, (with a certain number of signatures on a petition for removal,). I believe removal is not limited to illegal or improper action, or sheer incompettance, but can also be for political purposes.

Maybe I am wrong, because what is very odd, is that I cannot find those two articles in the final version of the Warrant. Have they been pulled? If so, that would pile irony on top of irony …. meaning there was nothing to resign over.

David parry
7 years ago

Yes, Beth, I recall that you are correct.. I forgot that the unfinished Articles left over from the March Special TM are being carried over into another Special TM within the Annual TM.

As a consequence John Rooney will indeed have his day “in court” —- To argue against the two Articles seeking to allow much easier removal of town officials — both elected and appointed, which some consider to be driven by the desire to remove them for political reasons, although there may be other legitimate reasons for.removal.

Maybe you might consider a balanced story on this very topic, pro and con. And explain why it has come about at this time.

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