Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Politics Of Expediency In Southbridge

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you sit by the river long enough you will see the body of your opponent floating by.”

The pollution swollen river that is Southbridge politics has flowed on for many months since The O’Zone first began. Over that time this forum has documented the many distortions of process, reason and intellect that have dominated the decision-making process that has governed this community. 

These have come at an ever-increasing cost to an ever-diminishing base of taxpaying citizens who have borne the burden of grotesque abuse and exploitation while a favored elite has benefitted.

For whatever reason, that has become totally inexplicable to me, the voters have continued to endorse this profligacy.

It is my hope that the most recent developments relating to this incompetency will deal the fatal blow to these sycophants so that we will soon witness their metaphorical bodies being swept out to sea.

For a year five people deliberated every other week, subject to a schedule posted on the town website, to evaluate all the elements of the existing Town Charter. Chaired by Councilor Laurent McDonald and Vice-Chair Gary Fontaine joined by Deborah Gregoire-Lefebvre, Dennis Martinek and Kenneth O’Brien, the Charter Review Committee also held two televised public hearings, provided a public comment form on the town website and provided a detailed report also available on the town website.

Compare that to the opacity of the proceedings of the current Bylaw Review Committee.

Once the Charter Review Committee issued its report it was caught up in the turmoil of a town council torn by dissension and then deadlocked by the passing of its most seasoned member.

The following special election resulted in a clear change in the balance of power that has persisted to this day.

Shortly after their “validation” at the subsequent town election the new council majority dispensed with the Charter Review Committee’s year-long work in two subcommittee meetings and a couple of council meetings highlighted by a sudden “change of heart” by one of the councilors on her previous vote on one of the most contentious issues relating to the Board of Health.

The bastardized recommendations were subsequently submitted to the state legislature by the newly elected State Representative. There it went through a long process of vetting that resulted in one of the provisions being eliminated.

Finally, the legislation was adopted by the House of Representatives, despite vocal opposition at a public hearing by a number of citizens, including the Charter Review Committee’s Chairman.

Following another lengthy wait, the proposals were segregated into ten separate Senate bills that were passed by that body last Thursday (September 6th).

At that point the Southbridge Town Manager, Christopher Clark, decided that it was time to take a victory lap.

Aware that the Town Clerk had already stated that it would be too late to include the ballot questions for the November elections, he told the Southbridge Evening News, that “He proposed working with the Council to set a special election date for sometime early next spring, since the next planned election after November will be the June 2013 annual balloting.” (Southbridge Evening News, September 12, 2012, page 1)

Apparently he was unacquainted with the terms of the legislation that he was extolling.

Each of the Senate bills adopted and sent to the Governor’s desk contained the following provision, “…this act shall be submitted to the voters of the town of Southbridge in the form of the following question which shall be placed on the ballot at a regular or special town election to be held in the year 2012….”

Further compounding the misinformation was the report in that same Southbridge News article that, “The texts of all of them [the Senate bills] (which include how the questions will appear on the ballot) are available as PDFs at the Legislature’s website.” (Southbridge Evening News, September 12, 2012, page 7)

However, the reporter apparently never grasped the specifics of the legislation, because he never pointed out to the town manager that the election had to be held in 2012 and as a result he never got a response to that oversight.

This incident also illustrates the gross incompetence of our current State Representative, Peter Durant.

All of these repercussions stem from his legislative proposal, H3900, submitted on behalf of the town of Southbridge.

If he was doing his job as a legislator he would have been fully aware of the developments related to his bill as it was modified by the Senate. He would have been aware, prior to last Thursday, that a mandate to hold the election in 2012 would be unrealistic in terms of both timing as well as the projected cost of $9,000 following so many other demands on the financial resources of the Town Clerk’s office in 2012.

Apparently, however, our “conscientious and fiscally conservative” point man in Boston dropped the ball (assuming he ever had a firm grasp on it). As far as I know (and I am open to being corrected) this was the most significant assignment he was given by any of the communities he represents, and he blew it!

In summary, this is merely the most recent and most clearly apparent example of the slapdash way Southbridge has been run for far too long.

I can only hope that it finally illustrates in clear and decisive terms to the voters of Southbridge why those in charge have to be washed away.

I’ll be sitting by the river watching.

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