Letter: To Select Board on DPW Management

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

An Open Letter to the Southborough Board of Selectmen

If you were to ask the average Southborough citizen what they thought of the Department of Public Works and its management over the last few years, you would have heard many descriptors, all negative: our roads are a potholed disaster; dead trees line our streets with no thought to replanting; the Old Burial Ground and Civil War monument lie denuded and destitute; our recycling program is a farce, with all our efforts for over a decade landfilled due to Ms. Galligan’s negligence. And of course, the most egregious of all: the St. Mark’s Triangle disaster, in which Southborough, at the direction of former Selectman Martin Healey, former chair Lisa Braccio, Mark Purple and Karen Galligan applied for a 290K shared streets grant for a history walk they never intended to build in order to move an intersection onto private land and build a park and parking lot for St. Mark’s School.

It was around this time that a new adjective began circulating to describe our town government: corrupt.

This is a very serious word, with very serious implications, and unfortunately every new revelation seems to suggest that there is something seriously wrong with the Department of Public Works, its manager Mr. Purple, and those of you who steadfastly defended and promoted it, despite ever growing demands for investigation. Ms. Galligan’s abrupt and tactless resignation, in which she bounced up to the mic at the very end of your meeting and gave her notice, stunned even you, her most stalwart supporters. We who have been following this debacle weren’t at all surprised, as it was very much in the style of someone who once plowed in the police chief just for spite.

Now, you have launched into a headlong search to find a new DPW head, allowing a tiny sub-committee of appointees to review new applicants instead of reviewing the field yourself. Let me assure you that we, the citizens of Southborough, feel that we could hardly be worse off without a DPW head than we have been with the Purple/Galligan administration, and we urge you to put the brakes on any permanent appointment before addressing the following issues:

ST MARK’S
Significant financial questions have been raised over the St. Mark’s Triangle deal: where did the money come from to do the work, how it was spent, and what did the state actually say to Ms. Galligan and Mr. Purple when they were summoned to Boston to answer allegations? You have been repeatedly asked for written documentation from this meeting, and none has been provided. Why? How is it that you sent a St. Mark’s alumna and daughter of the former comptroller for St. Mark’s to negotiate a deal with the school in the first place? Were you not worried about the obvious conflicts of interest? Why did you accept Ms. Galligan’s bogus explanation of the need for firetruck clearance, when the previous DPW director had already stated that the existing intersection was entirely ample? Why did you allow and encourage Ms. Galligan to sidestep the Planning Board on this matter, promoting a park and parking lot that received no Planning Board review? And then, how could you with a straight face accept town counsel’s ludicrous “big R, little r” explanation of this disgraceful end-run around our elected planning officials? How is it that Mr. Healey, the grant signatory, offered to do the “heavy lifting” for St. Mark’s to the tune of 20K, to gravel their parking lot? How is it that the triangle was stripped of 100-year-old oaks and maples—huge trees that were sent to be milled—yet the town received no compensation? How is it that we were happy to pay contractors $40 for a pot of milkweed? How much has actually been spent to date, and what will this cost to finish, should your plans go forward for a park that no one but you seems to want? These are only a few of the questions we demand answers to.

DPW REFORM
For years allegations have been raised about potential misdeeds and illegal expenditures at the DPW. Town vehicles, formerly monitored, now being driven for private use; illegal spraying of pesticides without license; lack of oversight of the cemetery trust funds; a hostile work environment where political affiliations are openly on display on town property. To my knowledge, you have not done anything to investigate any of these issues, though you have been contacted repeatedly by various individuals flagging their concerns. In fact, your response last spring—over vocal public outcry—was to praise Ms. Galligan and the DPW, and renew her contract with a raise! Now, it comes to light through public records requests that Ms. Braccio, as a member of the BOS and as chair—who was perhaps Ms. Galligan’s loudest supporter—routinely voted on contract and other financial matters relating to Galligan and the DPW all the while her husband was receiving payments as a DPW contractor—payments that amounted to 79K since 2018. The ethical and legal implications of her votes are now part of a growing state investigation, and we’ll have to leave it to others to make a final determination, but at the very least, this makes a total mockery of the calls for transparency you have all so loudly and repeatedly touted over the last decade.

NEW OVERSIGHT
Finally, and perhaps most shamefully, you have sat passively while the DPW Oversight Committee, headed by Mr. Boland, a longtime friend of Ms. Galligan, refused to meet for over a year and a half, remained in repeated and continuing violation of Open Meeting Law, and whose chair recently told you at your meeting that he has NO inclination to make any proactive moves whatsoever. Your response was to vote to write a letter! Over a year ago, Ms. DeMuria, a member of this committee, alerted you to these problems, and sent you a comprehensive plan for reform. To my knowledge, you failed to even acknowledge her effort— a practice entirely common with this board and this town administrator.

This has got to stop. We voted you into office to protect and promote our interests, not to thwart them. You need to do five things, and you need to do them immediately:

1) Appoint an interim head of the DPW, and inform Ms. Galligan we don’t need her consultancy at the $150/hour rate she is demanding. Thank you, and goodbye. And do not even consider appointing anyone currently associated with the DPW as a permanent head. We need a totally fresh start.
2) Launch an independent forensic accounting of the DPW going back a decade. We, the tax payers, want to know where our money has gone.
3) Hire an outside investigator to review the St. Mark’s triangle dealings from their inception to date, and provide the ratepayers with a full accounting of who did what, when and most importantly, why—including the actions of your board members and the town administrator. This is a project that NEVER made sense for Southborough. Why have you promoted it, even against the stiffest opposition?
4) Propose legislation for this town meeting to completely overhaul the DPW Oversight Committee to provide for responsible and active governance.
5) Pull any consideration of a land swap with St. Mark’s off the table until the first four conditions above are satisfied.

You have all at various times and points decried the need for citizens’ petitions, and lamented the fact that so much legislation is now done by outside initiative. I fully agree, and this is your chance to get to work and get results, because I guarantee you that if we don’t see some substantive action on these points by January, we the citizens will implement solutions ourselves at the spring town meeting.

We have had enough.

Michael Weishan
189 Cordaville Road

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Beth Melo
1 month ago

Michael, I want to add clarifications on a couple of points:

Unless there is a second incident I’m not aware of, it wasn’t the police chief who was plowed in. It was a resident employee of MassDOT who was required to park his work vehicle in a municipal lot rather than at home. (See post here.)

2. There is a group of other people reviewing resumes and doing initial interviews to filter finalists to forward to the Select Board for final interviews. Mark Purple said that he intended to forward 3 candidates. The Board has asked to potentially see more if they are qualified.

3. There was a communication posted in response to public records requests that summarized what MassDOT told Mark Purple and Karen Galligan at their meeting. You can read that here. (I don’t know if you were looking for something more.) Since it was through back and forth emails, I’m making it easier to follow by summarizing below:

A June 10th message to MassDot District Highway Director Barry J. Lorion confirmed a June 1st meeting to discuss the Town’s Shared Streets grant award for the St. Mark’s Street park project. It included Mark Purple, Karen Galligan, MassDOT officials, and a coordinator for the Shared Streets program. (See the pdf for all of the actual names involved.)

On September 12th, Lion confirmed that “District 3” had “general agreement” with the facts below:

• MassDOT was asked by the Inspector General’s Office to review the St. Mark’s Street project expenditures under the Shared Streets grant based on complaints it received or were made aware of through their process;
• In reviewing the grant expenditures for the St. Mark’s Street project, MassDOT has determined, and Cassandra concurs, that the funds were spent appropriately on those items related to the grant as defined in the application;
• Other road funds, including Chapter 90, were spent appropriately on the project as discussed; While the cross country path of the History Walk wasn’t constructed, the DOT understands that the park, and it’s associated sidewalks and walkways, serve as the final connection of the loop of the sidewalks on Marlborough Road, the existing Library Walkways, the Sidewalks on Common Street and the Town House lot;
• Although the lack of a “history walk” in the actual project may have made the project less attractive in the grant review process, the project was still viable for consideration of a Shared Streets grant; however, the DOT sees that the cross country portion of the History Walk is the only missing piece and was not the main piece of the History Walk;
• Mass DOT will await notification from Southborough that the park area has been completed so that they may come out to inspect the final product. It was understood that the work had been paused so that St. Mark’s School could undertake an archeological study of the proposed park area, based on concerns raised by residents;
• Should the park not be completed, then another conversation about the Shared Streets funding will need to take place, as the construction of a park was a condition of the grant award;
• Until the park is completed, future grant applications from Southborough will be paused.

Lorion added: “we also discussed property ownership and wanted to ensure the work was done on property that was in the public domain.”

Purple further clarified: “We did discuss the reciprocal license between the Town and St. Mark’s School for the work on the properties that were owned by St. Mark’s, and I believe that everyone was in agreement that this was acceptable for the project. As an aside, the Board is continuing to explore the possibility of an acquisition of St. Mark’s land for this project, rather than replacing the license with an easement.” Lorion confirmed that they were fine with the license agreement.

Michael Weishan
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Hi Beth, thanks for posting, and yes, to answer your question, we are definitely looking for something more substantial than Purple’s own interpretation. “General agreement” is not sufficient. And what precisely does this comment from the state mean: “We would add that we also discussed property ownership and wanted to ensure the work was done on property that was in the public domain” ??? That to me seems to say that the work would be illegal if we don’t acquire the property, which is what many of us have been saying from the beginning. Who starts work on a property they don’t own or have rights to? The answer to that is: Healey, Braccio, Purple, Galligan and crew, which is why we need public officials who actually respect the voters at town meeting, as well as a revamped DPW Oversight group as soon as possible.

Michael Weishan
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Also Beth, I should add, just so your readers are clear, the document above is Mark Purple’s summary. We have no idea of what facts (or lack thereof) were actually presented to Mr. Lorian (it is Lorian, not Lion). Was he informed that the easements were rejected at Town Meeting? Did he know that Ms. Galligan had claimed repeatedly at multiple meetings that the funds were already spent and no park had appeared? I think perhaps we the taxpayers should write Mr. Lorian ourselves and request some clear answers. Barry J. Lorion l District Highway Director; MassDOT l Highway Division l District 3 499 Plantation Parkway, Worcester, MA 01605

Admin
Beth Melo
1 month ago

Sorry about the error. I’m fixing that in my comment.

Michael Weishan
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Yes, well I messed up too above. It’s Lorion not Lorian. And I did email him by the way, flagging a huge number of errors and misstatements in Purple’s summary, and asking whether the department truly agreed or not. I will be happy to share the response if he replies.

Kelly Roney
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Purple further clarified: “We did discuss the reciprocal license between the Town and St. Mark’s School for the work on the properties that were owned by St. Mark’s, and I believe that everyone was in agreement that this was acceptable for the project. As an aside, the Board is continuing to explore the possibility of an acquisition of St. Mark’s land for this project, rather than replacing the license with an easement.” Lorion confirmed that they were fine with the license agreement.

Sounds fine, right?

The problem is that MassDOT is only competent to say whether an agreement that the town presented to it meets the requirements of their funding, not whether that agreement was legally entered into.

The Select Board plainly violated Massachusetts law when it purported to gain an interest in the property without first getting the 2/3s blessing of Town Meeting. The Attorney General or the courts could judge this where MassDOT cannot.

David Parry
1 month ago

Does our Selectboard care about corruption in Southborough? I think not, based on past performance and present behavior.

At a recent meeting on Dec 14, — with chair Kathy Cook and member Lisa Braccio, attended by myself, Clare Reynolds and one other resident, — I asked Ms Cook to listen to my explanation of five offenses committed by Town Officials on this Project.

(I learned of these offenses after the November meeting of the St Mark’s Rd “Working Group”. That Group is focussed on the Pocket Park and the “History Walk”.)

I asked the chair of the Selectboard: ” Are you aware of all these five offenses?”

Her reply was : “We already know about four, out of your list of five. That last one — Concealing evidence from investigators — I haven’t heard about that one before. We will look into that, and there may be a perfectly innocent explanation.”

So, that was it. No questions. No requests for further details. Simply —

” Mr Parry, your time’s up. It’s time to move on.”

Residents of Southborough — If you want to learn more about what the 5 offenses are, then read the summary handout to be delivered at a future meeting of the full Selectboard. (I am sure MySouthborough willl print it, because it has been very thoroughly checked for accuracy.)

Guess what the response was to my final request to shut the Project down, and start an investigation ?

“No, Mr Parry. You don’t seem to understand. We have already voted to continue on with this project,m and complete it.. We voted last
May, UNANIMOUSLY, to complete it. ”

SO … it’s “Full Seam Ahead And Damn The Torpedoes!”

Well, the torpedoes ARE COMING.

THIS TOWN WILL NOT STAND FOR A SELECTBOARD WHICH BRUSHES OFFENSES UNDER THE CARPET, AND IGNORES THEM. THEY WANT ACCOOUNTABILITY.

THIS IS A CONTINUING “COVER-UP” OF MULTIPLE OFFENSES.

Admin
Beth Melo
1 month ago

I don’t like kicking someone when they are down. But in terms of looking at past DPW errors and thinking ahead for what is needed. . .

I just posted a story about the reopening of Northboro Road (here). Although we dedicated less in Town taxes to the project than we would have if it was fixed in 2018, it seems to me that it cost us extraordinarily more in opportunities lost for how both state and Town ARPA funds could have been used. (And obviously, in 2018 we would have had no way of knowing that ARPA funds were on the horizon.)

If we had someone who worked for the DPW that was approaching retirement who could have saved us a lot of money by allowing the Town to do the repair work in-house, why push the project off until it was too late? Employee retirement shouldn’t be an unforeseen occurrence.

The Town has a history of pushing off short term expenses that end up costing us more down the road. I know the Capital Committee was formed in part to change that with support from both the Select Board and Advisory Committee. I hope we will continue to see that improve. But it clearly requires long term thinking of all Town Department heads and officials, not just the committee. Capital can’t know all of the questions that should be asked.

Alex Neihaus
1 month ago

Clearly, Mr. Weishan has a bone to pick with the current town administration. While his letter histrionic rings histrionic to me, he indirectly identifies the underlying problem in Southborough.
The town has been ill-served due to regulatory capture.
Everyone would probably agree that the way an organization runs and its effectiveness is a function of leadership. It starts at the top.
At the top of our town administration is an administrator who has managed the town to aggrandize the power of the administrator while keeping oversight to a minimum. “Administering” Southborough means, to this administration obfuscation, stone-walling and deflection.
Our departing DPW director was clearly an issue for many years. Personnel management is hard — especially with a problem employee. Sometimes, broken glass cuts management, too, when doing the right thing with respect to rouge employees.
Our town administrator chose to focus on managing the Select Board instead of managing his employees. That let this problem fester and created a sense of entitlement and condescension in DPW.
With respect to the Select Board, it’s a thankless job done but civic-minded citizens who become targets of residents’ unfocused ire. No good deed goes unpunished for our Select Board. I respect all who do it, though I wish we weren’t recycling insiders as much as we do.
But I cannot respect the Select Board’s spinelessness and kowtowing to town employees. The anger you hear in letters like Mr. Weishan’s is because the Select Board is too timid and too in thrall to Town employees and managers who leverage that access to serve institutional ends instead of the commonweal.

JACK BARRON
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Neihaus

Jack Barron
Thank you Mr. Weishan for your very well written letter pertaining to this Town. I would like to add that we should consider going back to a 3 member only Board of Select people. We should replace the Town administrator as soon as possible with a fresh person that has to be approved at town meeting every year they hold the position along with Town counsel and any other key jobs that the citizens of this town feel need their approval to continue in their jobs. We also should have an ombudsman to help the citizens voice complaints and work toward resolutions with Town employees or elected officials . We should not continue on the same track we have been on, too many problems for a small town with a lot of very nice people who are constantly run over by some very slick and insincere public officials and managers. A merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Andre Fortin
1 month ago

Dear Mr. Weishan,
Please note that your following comment:

If you were to ask the average Southborough citizen what they thought of the Department of Public Works and its management over the last few years, you would have heard many descriptors, all negative……

doesn’t apply in my case. I’m an average citizen and I’ve lived here nearly 40 years. I’ve only had positive encounters with the Department of Public Works.
Furthermore:

Let me assure you that we, the citizens of Southborough, feel that…

Respectfully, have you been officially appointed by the Town of Southborough to represent the views of all Southborough citizens?
I don’t think that’s the case, but please correct me if I’m wrong.
If it’s not the case, then you could perhaps rephrase your letter thusly:

Let me assure you that we, the citizens of Southborough who think like me, feel that…

in order to convey the meaning I believe you intended.
Sincerely,

Michael Weishan
1 month ago
Reply to  Andre Fortin

Andre, I was actually referring to an actual survey done last fall online in which 40 or so residents participated, none of whom had a single good thing to say about the DPW. Now granted these surveys tend to attract more naysayers than not…. but still. Not one single thing. I am glad however that you feel you have had a nice experience. I think I am fairly safe in saying, however, that this is not the majority view—certainly not if you are someone concerned about the globe and climate change who finds out that your recycling efforts were entirely wasted for years. I am but one person in a large and growing contingent of voters who will be seeking real change this spring. I hope that when we present our case at Town Meeting, you will join us. In the meantime, Merry Merry.

Andre Fortin
1 month ago

Thanks for your reply and additional background information. I wasn’t aware of such a survey at all, so I guess I should pay closer attention in the future. At least I was able in this exchange to provide input on my own positive interactions with the department, albeit not any related to the particular recycling issue you cite.
In the meantime, yes indeed. Best Holiday wishes to you as well!

David Parry
1 month ago
Reply to  Andre Fortin

I suggest all readers watch
the THREE MINUTE VIDEO of the start of the Selectboard meeting on Dec 20.

I am given only 3 minutes to present a petition requesting the St Marks Rd Project be shut down, a formal apology be issued to St Marks School, and a forensic investigation be started immediately

To watch the video, type (or copy and paste) the following into your search bar:

Yoube video of Southborough Selectboard meeting, Dec 20, 2022.

suggest all readers watch the THREE MINUTE VIDEO of the start of the Selectboard meeting on Dec 20.

David Parry is given only 3 minutes to present a petition requesting the St Marks Rd Project be shut down, a formal apology be issued to St Marks School, and a forensic investigation started immediately

To watch the video., type the following into your search har.

Yoube video of Southborough Selectboard meeting, Dec. 20, 2022

Al Hamilton
1 month ago

Yes, this is a mess. It is a mess that is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Selectmen. The employees they supervised got us into this situation. Now, we can either argue about this mess or find a way to resolve it. Here is my advice (for what little it is worth) to the BOS.

  1. Show some contrition – This is a mess and it has happed on your watch. Admit that mistakes were made. At the Spring town meeting the board’s attitude did not help it make its case.
  2. Town Meeting is Not Clueless. I have heard it said that TM did not know what it was voting for in the Spring. That claim, in the words of the Speaker of the House, is “poo poo”. A significant portion of the attendees are regulars with decades of experience. TM knew what it was doing.
  3. Propose the lowest cost way to resolve this mess. If that means refunding the money to the Commonwealth, do so. If there is a less expensive way to proceed, propose that. Don’t put in sidewalks unless it is absolutely necessary. Sidewalk money should be spent in neighborhoods that need sidewalks.
  4. Separate Funding Article. Place the monies required in a separate article and make it clear that no other funding sources will be used.
  5. Tear up the so called “License Agreement”. This agreement is a slap in Town Meeting’s face. Saying that we are going to proceed on the basis of this agreement regardless of Town Meeting approval is not a formula for getting Town Meeting approval.
  6. Remind Town Counsel that they need to keep the approval of Town Meeting in mind. Why should Town Meeting authorize a legal budget that will be used to undermine the authority of Town Meeting to approve real property transactions. It should not!
  7. Rt 85 and 30. Make it clear that we are done spending all our improvement monies on the strip of land between 85 & 30 and Chestnut Hill Farm. Let’s spend taxpayer money where taxpayers live in the rest of town.

The time has hopefully come to try and clean up this mess and put it behind us. I would like to be able to support a minimum cost solution proposed by a chastened BOS. We all make mistakes in life, sometimes they are a doozy. I do not believe that the BOS is corrupt or incompetent, quite the opposite. They are dedicated public servants who volunteer massive amounts of their time to serve our community. They need to exhibit leadership by rebuilding trust with Town Meeting.

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