Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insubordination Vs. Intolerance

Ken O’Brien

The Worcester Telegram reports that Southbridge Town Manager Kevin Paicos has directed an independent contractor not to use one of its employees to plow in Southbridge. The prohibition comes following a statement by the employee on his Facebook page.

Derek Julian, an employee of J. Bruso Construction of Southbridge posted the following message on Facebook:
"Way to go town officials at the top of the chain ... make a big mess during the day ... get the towns people all pissed off and screw up traffic drastically ... not to mention hurt the businesses income ... all to 'TRY' and save a $ ... its called night work for a reason ... .and kudos to the department workers for doing the job they did with the mess they had to deal with." 

Mr. Paicos said: "If this individual is willing to say those things that he said publicly, then how can we possibly trust him? That in the next snowstorm, he's going to be faithfully performing the duties that are expected of him the way we tell him to perform them?"

Mr. Paicos said it was unacceptable conduct for either town employees or contractors to lash out at town policies in a public forum.

"The standards for insubordinate behavior are the same for a contractor as they are for an employee," he said. "Unfortunately, you can't both take the taxpayers' money and then turn around and be critical of the policies of the legitimate elected and appointed officials, just because you're being deprived of more of the taxpayers' money."

The manager added, "Anybody who does that while I'm the town manager will suffer immediate discipline up to and including termination — if their actions justify it."

Town Council Chairman Shaun M. Moriarty expressed support for Mr. Paicos' decision not to use Mr. Julian.

"Part of having the freedom of speech is recognizing that everything you say may have an impact, and not always the one you anticipate," Mr. Moriarty said. "We are all judged, fairly or not, for the things we say."

To begin with there appears to be some issue as to what happened here. Granted Mr. Julian expressed strong disagreement with the town policy. Regrettably, the Facebook comment lacks specifity as to what “mess” Mr. Julian is actually referring to and what he may view as a viable alternative. However, there does not appear to be an actual case of insubordination.

Insubordination involves an actual refusal by a subordinate to carry out the lawful orders of a superior. There is no evidence that Mr. Julian did this. Mr. Paicos expresses concern that this may happen in the future, but that concern has little substantive foundation. It certainly doesn’t appear to warrant the draconian nature of his response. In extreme cases insubordination may involve abusive language, but again Mr. Julian’s comments don’t appear to fall into this category. Certainly Mr. Paicos would have been well-advised to adhere to a more measured example of progressive discipline.

What is actually at issue here is a growing tendency on the part of public officials in this town to insulate themselves from public criticism. We have seen this repeatedly on the part of the School Committee. Indeed they have twisted the whole concept of public criticism to such an extent in the public input portion of their meetings as to be laughable.

Lately this has been the case ever more so with the Town Council as well. While this particular incident marks a high-water mark, its precedent can be seen in such cases as Mr. Paicos’ remarks as they related to the recreation director or recent remarks relating to efforts to constrain budget increases.

Such a tendency has been accompanied by the reluctance of elected officials to exercise their appropriate policy-making role in deference to the supposed expertise of the town manager. Mr. Moriarty’s comments are a clear illustration of this tendency. 

If the prior tenures of Town Managers Carlisle and Clark have demonstrated anything it is the danger of automatic deference to supposed expertise. What is needed is a Council that has confidence in its own view of what needs to be done rather than automatic deference to an assumed authority that has its own bureaucratic agenda.


  1. He threatened one of our policemen for challenging his heavy handed methods, and now he threatens a contractor with decades of dedication?

    No wonder the school teacher on the health board couldn't fine the landfill managers -so the DEP got the $200k instead of the town.

    This reminds me of when the first health director got fired for not kissing Vermont butt.

    In my opinion it is WRONG! I think 60% of voters should be able to fire our Town Managers. Essentially they are like Mayors we we don't get to throw them out in an election!

  2. ode to Justice Thurgood MarshallMarch 4, 2015 at 7:33 PM

    "While criminal sanctions and damage awards have a somewhat different impact on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech from dismissal from employment, it is apparent that the threat of dismissal from public employment is nonetheless a potent means of inhibiting speech." which is why the courts decided the case of
    Pickering v. Board of Education , 391 U.S. 563 (1968) in favor of the public employee.who criticized a public body as a citizen.
    This shot across the bow to public employees by the town manager is not legal. It works against the current rally cry against public employees in this town and makes me want to support them.

    Southbridge legal fees are probably headed upwards again and this time expect them to be coming from the townside one way or the other. The town side management is following the same failed strong arm playbook the schools used so unsuccessfully last year. The cost of which will be deferred and passed on later when it is someone else's problem to deal with. Can we please go back to a town meeting ????
    Isn't that progressive!

  3. The roads do seem worse this year. good for the plow guy for speaking out about why. the town manager should be a citizen of town even if they are less qualified better that they truly care about our town.

  4. Can somebody explain this quote from the article to me?
    "Meanwhile, Mr. Paicos said it costs $20,000 per night to remove snow, while it costs shy of $4,000 per day to remove snow."

    1. It means that it costs $4000 in wages to town employees with town equipment during the day, but with contract work, the cost at night is $20k. The more the town a complishes at night means fewer contractor hours at night.

      I suspect that $20 k includes the cost of town employees that are probably paid premium as well.

    2. The $4,000 is for trucks not owned by the town. The $20,000 represents the money needed to pay time and a half for the DPW workers.

      I personally think the daytime snow removal is a very solid decision. So we shut down Main Street in sections for an hour or two, it's not like there are many places to do commerce there anyway. And I suspect most of the cars driving down Main Street are not Southbridge residents anyway.

      But as to the Manager's decision to have a private contractor fire one of his workers. Now that's just plain wrong! A working man fired for speaking ill of the master. Sounds like Alabama a century ago. It also sounds like a play right out of the McLoughlin/Donovan play book.

  5. Overtime. You have to pay OT and probably a 3rd shift differential to DPW employees working at night. They're already scheduled during the day. Also, the independent plow contractors have been witnessed driving around town making $78 per hour to plow out their private customers. How do you prove that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing???? There's a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Your tax dollars at work paying these idiots.(not DPW...they're busting their humps).

  6. Here come the JUDGE!March 5, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    Saving can be painful but when called for you do it. Its not called skimping and saving for no reason. That said.....,

    This town manager has a rabid reaction to criticism! We have all had the privileged to watch him on TV., to put on our robes and grab a gavel, and judge him as so. The verdict is straight forward especially if you've been paying attention.

    A few weeks ago he presented the most death spiral financial forecast for this town that we've seen since Clayton Carlisle line up his 7 chair demonstration in front of the podium forecasting the financial shortfall in the near coming years. With all of this previously known, other then funding the pension funds with Casella royalties, what financial planning has happened in this town since?
    (The pension fund being a fund that every town managers since certainly wants funded in the absence for the obvious reasons.)

    Which brings us full circle to criticizing Dept. heads. Since the financial planners of this town have either fled to Florida or..., have greyed in office, where is the accountability for the totality of their financial decisions that have led us to this current skimp and saving philosophy? NOT mentioned in the town managers presentation and in the audience for all to see - hey look what we did - was the core financial team! With NO mention of their past decisions nor even a new plan to increase revenue other than increasing taxes to you and me there they just sat - stoically. The plow driver was absolutely correct when he said top officials have made a big mess in this town. Too bad the Town Manager wasn't so opinionated about them too. .

    Yup they've now been judged and found complicit. Not by this protective and intolerant Town manger but by the citizens you've been raising tax rates on for years. It probably wouldn't have ever been said but for the Town Manager going after the little guy while giving his chiefs a pass. We are heading to a long known huge financial disaster but if your counting on the very same management team that drove this bus over the cliff to solve it you really can't be predicting a happy ending.

  7. mountain of moneyMarch 5, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    350,000 x $65= $22,750,000.

    Actually, our landfill brings in more than 350,000 tons, and the fee is over $65 at times. That is OUR landfill, but we get only $6 a ton OR less.

    Check with the DEP, but because the operators of that landfill have failed to keep all the conditions, AND because of that recent $200k fine, the health board can pull the site assignment from the operator in a matter of one meeting with a three day notice.

    The reality is that our own has allowed this valuable resource to be used up, and allowing the managers of the facility to take all the money. Since they obviously have failed to keep their end of the bargain, why can't we get a firm to manage the landfill for the going rate of $4-8 ton. The deal is inside out!

    I realize that there are treehuggers that would try to stop our continued use of the landfill, but the town beat them in court before and could beat them again.

    One former Councilor once told me that if we received the $20 million a year the state would stop giving us all the money they provide us, but I am told by people on the state level that we'd lose no more than 10%-20% of what the state provides.

    The bottom line? Our gutless Council is afraid to challenge our managers that for $ome rea$on are content with getting the money out of our bank accounts instead of taking it from their chums that run our landfill and are making a fortune from our asset!

  8. Julian should sue the town!

  9. Don't criticize me BroMarch 6, 2015 at 2:53 PM

    Marketti's modern version of Don't criticize me Bro is spot on.


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