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Current, Former Wayland Officials Criticize Selectmen Over Turkington Firing

In a lengthy letter, current and former Wayland officials expressed concern over the selectmens' "lack of remorse" in firing the former town administrator.

At left, Selectman Ed Collins, at right Selectman Tony Boschetto
At left, Selectman Ed Collins, at right Selectman Tony Boschetto

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was submitted to Wayland Patch.

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SELECTMEN LACK REMORSE

When three Wayland Selectmen maneuvered the firing of Town Administrator Fred Turkington this past August, it seemed that town government had hit an absolute low point. However, the subsequent behavior of Selectmen Tony Boschetto and Ed Collins has done nothing to improve the situation. Despite widespread citizen anger and dismay at their actions, and despite the Attorney General’s strongly worded finding of an Open Meeting Law violation, Boschetto and Collins continue to show a shocking lack of contrition. They have demonstrated a continued arrogance and a complete lack of understanding as to why so many residents are upset.

Back when we wrote our Sept. 2 guest column, “Abuse of Power by Three of Wayland’s Selectmen,” we could not have possibly imagined the full debacle that would unfold as more and more bad decisions and mounting expenses ensued.  Equally important has been the remarkably poor conduct and judgment by the three members of the Board of Selectmen (Doug Leard has since resigned citing poor health) as they have tried to avoid accountability and continue to refuse to acknowledge what they have done. 

The damage they have caused our community has been made inestimably worse through their efforts to make the issue disappear:

 ·      They have refused to provide any meaningful explanation for the sudden firing of the town’s consistently well-reviewed and highly regarded Town Administrator.

·      They have tried to quash public comment on the matter and, at times, were openly hostile to citizens offering comments.

·      They repeatedly chose to meet out of public view in executive session--- in particular, after they opted to have the town hire special counsel to represent them to the Attorney General. Although permissible, this is unprecedented by the Wayland Board of Selectmen in Open Meeting Law (OML) cases.

·      Between the hiring of special counsel to help them defend themselves and payment of the Town Administrator’s salary and benefits, to date Boschetto and Collins have cost the town more than $255,000, much of which is unbudgeted.

New and disturbing facts emerge since August.

In response to a citizen’s OML complaint, the Attorney General’s Office found that the Board did, in fact, commit a violation. The language used in the decision was appropriately harsh, but perhaps the most troubling finding is that “…Mr. Boschetto appears to have been intentionally vague about the nature of this topic.”

Boschetto then attempted to justify his “intentional vagueness” regarding the Town Administrator’s termination by claiming that any distribution of his motion prior to the meeting would “not have been appropriate” under OML. However, the AG disagreed with Mr. Boschetto’s misinterpretation.  As acting chair, Boschetto’s lack of understanding of the Open Meeting Law is disturbing.

Although the AG did not have enough hard evidence to find prior deliberation between then-Chair Leard, Boschetto and Collins, the decision’s harsh wording serves to validate the opinion expressed by many residents that these three selectmen were clearly not exonerated.

Similarly false are any claims that voters elected Mr. Boschetto to terminate the Town Administrator. In fact there was never any hint of that in the public statements of his campaign. It is revisionist history to invoke a previously mentioned “new direction” as justification for this action.

And last, the assertion by Boschetto that the AG’s ruling holds far-ranging consequences across the Commonwealth pertaining to agenda-setting are groundless and self-serving. By any measure, the language of the AG’s decision does not in any way exonerate the behavior of the three members of the Board of Selectmen last August and September. 

There is another possible consequence of the firing of the Town Administrator. Some critics of Mr. Turkington also opposed the creation of the Town Administrator position when it was first adopted at the 2004 Town Meeting. A multi-year review of government structure commissioned by the town, known as the Maximus Report, recommended it as essential to a better-functioning town government. Those opposed to the Town Administrator position favor a weakened, less efficient structure, such as we had with a Town Secretary.

The future of Wayland is in the hands of those who vote.

In its editorial “Ambush in Wayland,” The Metrowest Daily News aptly expressed the reaction of many Wayland citizens to the firing: “Cutting the people – not to mention two-fifths of the Board of Selectmen – out of a decision this important is a grave disservice to the community. Refusing to give an explanation for his termination is unfair to Turkington and smacks of arrogance.” They added, “Wayland deserves an explanation from its selectmen, and a promise that they will recommit to transparency and public participation in local government.”

Four months later, there have been no explanations, promises of transparency, or expressions of remorse from Boschetto or Collins. To the contrary, by all indications, if the situation were to arise again they would do exactly the same thing.

The recent watershed events underscore the importance of every resident’s participation in the electoral process.  As we have seen in the past few years, the consequences of low voter turnout during town elections can be quite dramatic.  

In the coming weeks, Wayland will be kicking off a new election cycle culminating with the April 2 town election during which three members of the Board of Selectmen will be elected. We urge you to learn about the candidates and what they truly stand for. And it is essential to make sure they possess the experience, character, and judgment that all of us in Wayland deserve. We hope that every registered voter will commit to being a part of that very important selection process.


-Lea Anderson, current chair of the High School Building Committee, former member of the School Committee,

-Malcolm Astley, current member of the School Committee,

-John Bladon, former chair and member of the Board of Selectmen,

-Bruce Cummings, former chair and member of the Board of Assessors,

-Jeff Dieffenbach, former chair and member of the School Committee, former member of the Finance Committee,

-Ben Downs, current member of the Audit Committee,

-Tom Fay, former chair and member of the Board of Selectmen,

-Susan Pope, former State Representative and former member of the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the Finance Committee and current president of the Friends of the Council on Aging,

-Rod Fletcher, former member of the Finance Committee,

-Lori Frieling, former chair and member of the School Committee

-Nancy Funkhouser, current member of the Finance Committee

-Louis Jurist, former chair and member of the School Committee

-Cherry Karlson, current member and former chair of the Finance Committee

-James Karlson, former chair and member of the Board of Health

-Bob Lentz, former chair and member of the Finance Committee

-Steve Lesser, former member of the Finance Committee

-Megan Lucier, former chair and member of the Conservation Commission

-Sam Peper, former chair and member of the Finance Committee

-John Perten, former chair and member of the Zoning Board of Appeals

-Chris Riley, former chair and member of the Finance Committee and current chair of the Audit Committee

-Richard Stack, former member of the Finance Committee,

-Bill Steinberg, former chair and member of the Finance Committee and former chair and member of the Planning Board,

Kathie Steinberg, current member of the Historic District Commission,

-Michael Tichnor, former chair and member of the Board of Selectmen and former member of the Finance Committee,

-Ellen Tohn, Former member of the Conservation Commission,

-Nick Willard, current member of the Personnel Board.

This letter expresses the views of each individual above and does not represent any town board or committee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

responsive leadership January 10, 2014 at 01:57 PM
You missed the point. The TA was never given the opportunity to follow the "new direction" of the Selectmen. Mr. Boschetto took office after April's town meeting, hardly sufficient time to render judgment on the TA's performance. Board members were asked to submit goals for coming year - curiously, neither Mr. Collins nor Mr. Boschetto did. The termination came just as the goals were to be discussed. The Board never discussed or adopted a new direction, let alone give Mr. Turkington the opportunity to try to follow it (to the extent it actually differs from the then-BOS adopted direction) before terminating his contract. To date, no one has offered an example - a different policy, different budget priorities, a different approach to governance - that has been chosen by the BOS since they terminated the TA. So it is hard to understand what goals they thought the TA wouldn't implement or what basis they came to the conclusion that he somehow wouldn't implement the "new direction." Absent an explanation, the TA termination was a symbolic change. Then again, perhaps Mr. Collins and Mr. Boschetto have a more expansive agenda to implement that has been delayed as an expedient measure given the public outcry (and the lack of a deciding third vote of Mr. Leard). Then again, they could be waiting for the next election to pick up that third vote. The current and former town officials have it right - this election is critical for the future direction of Wayland. Elections do have consequences!
responsive leadership January 10, 2014 at 02:10 PM
BTW - yes the contract provided for a buy-out. The 12 months severance was a high bar to make its use something that required careful deliberation and strong justification. It also provided for non-renewal based on a performance evaluation. At no time did any of the current selectmen discuss dissatisfaction with the performance of the TA. Mr. Boschetto make his motion without evaluating the TA. The 18 minute deliberation, if one is to believe no prior notice or forethought was given by either Mr. Collins or Mr. Leard, is incredible given the magnitude and the financial consequences of the decision. The new direction and mandate espoused by some suggests consensus on dissatisfaction and change, even if one were to believe that the two Selectmen who voted with Mr. Boschetto merely seized on the one vehicle presented to them to express their view on the TA prior to doing so at his performance review the next month. Even if measured by that yardstick, all three Selectmen failed to exercise due diligence on a matter of such magnitude. Contrast their hasty vote with the deliberate and measured approach taken to respond to the OML complaints made by citizens who rightfully felt deceived by Mr. Boschetto's unclear agenda item. Critics of the "SOS crowd" lament expediency at the expense of process. I guess the ends do justify the means when Tony and his supporters take the reins of power.
Jeff Baron January 10, 2014 at 02:28 PM
While I wish you would ID yourself, I want to respond because (in general) I think you are making cogent arguments without too much bashing. I can't speak for someone else, but I would tell you that the last election's results were another mandate that the status quo was not acceptable to the majority of voters (non-voters don't count as they chose not to exercise their voice). Termination WITHOUT cause was the chosen path so as to not expose the town to questions, legal costs, etc. often associated with the "for cause" process you describe above. Yes, it too had a cost, but as we have learned in previous cases, it hardly a slam dunk to call the WITH cause option less expensive. So, I see the argument here of a "hasty" decision and lack of process as more of a fulfillment of the reality that the voters spoke and asked for a change, and it started at the top. What else is to come as it relates to change can be judged on its own merits. BTW, the signatories on this letter aren't saying anything original in the "elections have consequences" message. Of course, they do. They always do. They are, in my opinion, sensationalizing an issue in an attempt to rally their base and "take back the power". That's also not a new tactic. The part that bothers me is their implication of trustworthiness and authority as current and former town officials. Like I said at the beginning, there are lots of glass house owners on this list throwing stones.....
responsive leadership January 10, 2014 at 04:29 PM
@Jeff. "the voters spoke and asked for change, and it started at the top." I'm particularly troubled by this sentiment. We don't have a mayor. To the extent that certain candidates (since we cling to the illusion that the lack of party label makes for more civil elections at the local level) represent certain policy perspectives, one can argue that those who chose to vote desired change, irrespective of the margin of difference between the candidates. However, if we except the premise that change starts at the top, it suggests that the Selectmen hire an administrator to do their bidding and that person is expendable if the "parties" change. The town administrator is a public administration professional qualified by experience, education and training to manage a public organization with a $30+M budget and about 150 employees. He/she shouldn't be sacked when the wind blows. As to your point about termination without cause, I never would suggest that termination with just cause is appropriate. There was never an allegation of impropriety that would trigger that action. Like many others, I wonder why the three selectmen, allegedly having formed the same judgment independently that the TA should be removed, weren't willing to follow a process that would have cost substantially less than the late August ambush. The performance review was due in September (that was the pre-text for Tony asking for the contract to be placed in the packet, giving him minimal cover under the OML). The three who vorted for removal could have expressed concerns about Mr. Turkington's performance. They could have required him to demonstrate compliance with their "new direction" for the next 6 months as a condition of renewal of his contract. During those 7 months, taxpayers would have benefited from the TA's work instead of paying another employee a stipend to cover the critical matters and then hiring an interim administrator. If nothing else, a deicision as important as retaining or hiring a TA should take more than 18 minutes. It should have public input. If the current majority believes their approach last August was appropriate, then why have they engaged in debates at virtually every Selectmen's meeting since October on a review of the job description, composition of a search committee, establishing a public process for gathering input on the qualities of the next TA, etc. See the contrast? I never questioned the right of the majority to take the action they do. But I do challenge them to explain on what basis they decided to remove the TA, to describe the material changes in operations, budget or policy that have resulted due to their action, and whether they plan to treat the TA position as a revolving door based on partisan considerations. If so, then Wayland needs to have a considered public debate on a governance model.
responsive leadership January 10, 2014 at 04:32 PM
Given that the former TA had nothing but stellar performance reviews, Doug Leard must have shared that view. He voted to hire Mr. Turkington. He participate in evaluations during his terms as Selectman when the former TA first came to Wayland and during his most recent term. What changed for him? I guess we'll never know since he has left office.

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