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.