Mashpee Selectmen Clash Over Charter Committee
By: Geoff Spillane
The camaraderie and lockstep decision making that has become the trademark of the current Mashpee Board of Selectmen appears to be wearing out.
At Monday’s evening’s meeting, a rare public argument, ignited by an agenda item regarding appointees to the town’s charter review committee and fueled by allegations of poor communication practices, erupted between Selectman Thomas F. O’Hara and Chairman Michael R. Richardson.
The turbulent exchange between the two men began after letters of interest from Mr. Richardson and Selectman Wayne E. Taylor to join the charter review committee were presented to the board for consideration.
The town charter is due to be reviewed this year by a special committee with nine members formed to review the town’s equivalent of the Constitution. Set to convene after the May Annual Town Meeting, the committee is to comprise two selectmen, two members of the finance committee, two members of the school committee, one member of the planning board, and two members to be appointed by the town moderator.
The letters appeared to catch Mr. O’Hara by surprise, leading him to say that he was unaware of the committee being formed and that letters of interest were being solicited. He also questioned why a memorandum was sent out to other boards and committees regarding the matter, and not the board of selectmen, prompting Town Manager Joyce M. Mason to remind him that the subject had already been addressed at an earlier board meeting.
“We need better communication. I do not feel as if I am getting all of the information I need,” Mr. O’Hara said.
Selectman John C. Cahalane also spoke up, saying that he had not seen a memorandum either and that he was surprised that the committee picks were being made so early. He also complimented Mr. Richardson as being one of the best communicating chairman the board has ever had, but he said that much of the communication is received “after the fact.”
The allegations and criticism led the typically jovial Mr. Richardson to become visibly agitated, telling Mr. O’Hara that he had mentioned the charter review committee to the board in January and that he was “wasting his time” trying to get communication to Mr. O’Hara.
“I have been trying to get ahold of you for two weeks, and you have not answered me. What do you want me to do? Park in front of your house?” Mr. Richardson said.
Reached for an interview the day after the meeting, Mr. O’Hara remained steadfast in his assessment that communication between the chairman and the rest of the board needs to be improved.
“There is communication between the chairman and the town manager that doesn’t move forward to the rest of the board. Mike Richardson is making decisions without approval of the board. He does not speak for the board, but should be speaking for himself unless an issue has been discussed by the entire board,” Mr. O’Hara said, adding that he often reads about issues in the newspaper that he should have been notified about prior to details being released for publication.
Mr. O’Hara also said that he intends to submit a letter of interest to serve on the charter review committee, meaning that there will be three selectmen vying for two seats on the committee. It is unclear how or when the decision to fill the two positions will be made.
“I see a lot of room for improvement in the charter to bring more responsibility and powers back to the selectmen.” he said.
Mr. Richardson, also reached after the meeting, said that from his perspective, communication is great and that he distributes regular communications updates to the board. But he said that selectmen still need to read pre-meeting information packets and other materials and correspondence in-depth in order to be prepared for meetings.
“I am not mad at Tom, but I am disappointed that we have had this issue come up again. I have reached out to Tom, and extended my hand and willingness to help resolve his ‘I don’t know’ issue with him. But I need to know what he doesn’t know,” Mr. Richardson said.
Others React To Tiff
In conversations with Ms. Mason and other members of the board, the general consensus is that Mr. Richardson communicates often and effectively, and that Mr. O’Hara may not be taking as much time as he should preparing for meetings.
According to Ms. Mason, Mr. Richardson sends out weekly updates, and that her office gets relevant news and correspondence out to the selectmen via phone calls or e-mail as soon as important information is received.
“I just don’t understand it. He wants to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the town, and we have a clear difference of opinion on that, and because of that he feels as if he is not receiving enough communication. He has an issue with the sitting town manager. I have no axe to grind with that man, but if other selectmen have an issue or need to know additional information regarding a matter, they come to me and we work to get an answer. Mr. O’Hara does not do that,” Ms. Mason said.
Longtime Selectman Wayne E. Taylor said that there seems to be a lot more communication from the chairman than there has been in the past, but stressed the importance of reading the pre-meeting information packet well in advance of the meeting. “I pick up the packet on Thursday and have two full days plus the weekend to read and study the information, and if I have any questions, I call Joyce,” he said.
Selectman Carol A. Sherman agrees with Mr. Taylor.
“There is no lack of communication. Communication is fine. If you want to know what’s going on, you need to be in the selectmen’s office daily to check mail and talk to Joyce to know what’s happening. Mike Richardson communicates with us more than enough, and I receive some type of correspondence daily. There is a lot of reading involved with being a selectman. It’s a 24/7 job, not just a twice a month meeting commitment,” she said.
In regard to Monday evening’s discourse between members of the board, Mr. Cahalane says that “once in while it is healthy to get issues out in the open like that. You say what you want to say, walk away, and get back to business.”
Charter Committee Membership
While the matter of which two selectmen will be named to the charter review committee remains in flux, other boards and committees and boards presented their designees without incident or debate on Monday evening.
Charles E. Gasior and Theresa M. Cook will represent the finance committee, Scott P. McGee and Jose L. Franco will represent the school committee, and Mary A. Waygan will represent the planning board.
Town Moderator Jeremy M. Carter has yet to name the two representatives that he can appoint to the committee.
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