Being Right is not always Right

I am what could be described as a political wonk. I am the guy who sits up on election night and colors in the map as the results are announced. I watch all of the news stations from local to national and then I read the follow up the next day in all of the newspapers national and local. For me a national election is a Super Bowl, without the great commercials.
Politics is a funny business. One day you’re a hero and the next you’re a bum. The same people who put you in office can take you out. In this last election we saw some pretty deep voter anger and I don’t think we are done yet.
For the last year the Southbridge Town Council meeting has been must see TV. If it was not for the fact that our Town is literally on the skids this would be entertaining. I have written about this before but we have some of the highest unemployment rates in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 12.5% and almost 15% of the resident of this small town live at or near the poverty level. With all of this in mind, at last night’s council meeting, they spent 2/3rds of the meeting on internal council procedures, who can talk when and the fact that we should treat each other with respect. No don’t get me wrong these things are important but…
This Town Council has been divided since the organized back in June and I do not think there will be any resolution to this in the near future. Right or wrong they were split five to four but with the death of one member they are now evenly split four to four. For the most part this does not seem a problem except when it comes to the inner workings of the Council.
Three meetings ago and attempt was made to fill the vice-chairman’s seat that was left vacant with the death of the incumbent. Two people were nominated and it ended up a four four tie. Now the rules of the council would dictate that they should continue to ballot until there was an election. I think they would still be sitting there voting. The Charter of the Town does say that a vice chair is to be elected at the next meeting after the seat is vacated. At the next meeting, one person was absent and so a motion was made to add an item to the agenda, totally legal by the way, and the vote was taken and this time a person was elected. Four votes for and three abstained from the vote.
Just a tangent here. It is my understanding of the abstention vote that it is to be used not as a protest but if there is some conflict that one might have with the issue being debated. Again this is my understanding of this.
The interesting this is what happened with two of the councilors and their reactions to the vote. They were disgusted and they did not hide the fact that they were. In fact I have to say they acted very childish. The rules were not broken and there is not one person who can tell me that if the shoe was not on the other foot the same thing would not have happened. It’s politics plain and simple. It is also the rules. The Charter says there needs to be a vice chair in case the chairman is incapacitated. If there is no chair the duties fall to the senior person on the council. Also keep in mind that the chief executive of the town is not the town manager but the Chair of the Town Council. If there was some kind of emergency it would be the chair of the Town Council that would make the declaration not the Town Manager, so the position is necessary.
At last nights meeting, and this is where the title of this post comes in, the Chair read a statement about how things should be run. It was very detailed and well researched and not only followed the rules of the council but Robert’s Rules of Order. It is my understanding again, that if there is not a specific rule in the Council Rules then Robert’s Rules take over. If you are going to quote the rules, then you need to know them all.
Here is my heartache with what happened last night. The Council Chair threw this at the other members of the Council. The Council is a collegial body that for better or worse needs to work together for the Town. The Council Chair is the leader of the Council and sets the tone and agenda, but he cannot act alone he needs the others to conduct business. I would have suggested that he send this to them in advance and either discuss it in executive session, which is really not what that is intended for, or add it to the agenda for discussion at a latter date. Politics is the art of getting people to agree, all this did last night was to make the divide much wider between the two groups. I don’t think there was anything wrong in what he said but it is not always what is said but how and why. Mr. Chairman I think you are correct in your desire to get things back on track but I think you chosen method was incorrect.
Another tangent here. I have no horse in this race. I know some people on the Council better than I do others but I have no qualms telling my friends they are wrong and in this case they were wrong.
The main problem was that the chair was not consistent in the application of the rules right after he spoke them and this was noticed by all.
Things need to change on this council and they need to change quickly. The town cannot afford this kind of distrust, and that is what it is one side does not trust the other side and it is coming out in a very bad way. The town needs leaders who will get the business of the town completed and move us forward. I believe that this council can do it, but they need to gain the trust of each other back and they need to do it quick. We are a ship without a captain and we are heading into a storm.

1 Comment

  1. Father you have some interesting observations. The area that I think is most important is that the Chair should lead by example.

    What the leadership on the Council has shown this year is that might makes right and that is you do it in the name of "politics" even priests will say it is ok. That is wrong and is causing the divide to grow.

    Numerous times this year the council has added things to the agenda to railroad them through. That is not the prupose of adding things to the agenda. Instead of proper debate and discussion and then a organized vote and letting the chips fall where they may, we have a few quick motions, ignore procedure for discussion, and a vote with a snicker and a smile the size of a cheshire cats.

    Would it be different if the shoe was on the other foot? I like to think so and I know that I did it different when I was the chair but to be honest, it does not matter if the other side would do it different because a true leader does the right thing even if someone else would not.

    We need true leaders not bullies who say don't worry about being absent we wont have the vote next meeting and then have the vote. That was not anything more then a travesty.

    By the way, our current leadership does not know Roberts Rules very well, does not know the open meeting law very well and refuse to go to trainings.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!