Ethics and Local Government

Here in Southbridge we are governed by a nine member Town Council.  Several weeks ago one of the members of the Council died thus leaving the eight that we have now.  Being in the public eye is difficult business in good times let alone in bad times.  People in public life have to make all sorts of decisions that affect peoples lives each and everyday.

One of the policies of the Southbridge Town Council that I disagree with is something called citizens forum.  This is the time for any Southbridge resident to speak to the Council about any item that is not on the agenda for the meeting.  My feeling is this is the legislative body of the Town and the time for discussion is at the multitude of Sub Committee meetings that are held in between Council meeting.  This however is not the real point of this post.

On Monday last, there was a public hearing on a new trash program for the Town.  One of the people charged with making the presentation on this new proposal passed out some mock ups or replicas if you will of the carts that were being suggested to be used.  Actually they were kind of cute and looked funny sitting there on the rostrum during the meeting.

At Citizens Forum, a resident quoted a section of the Massachusetts Code of Ethics that deals with the acceptance of gifts by Town Officials.  For the record, an employee or official cannot accept a gift with a value of more than $50.  I understand her point, but she was incorrect in her reasoning.  A little back and forth took place between the resident and on of the Town Councilors.  So in essence it was a back and forth between a boss (the resident) and the employee (the Councilor).  It turned nasty, another reason I am against this sort of discussion at meetings.  Something was shouted from the back of the room and the Councilor responded by yelling “Take the ethics test”  This is in reference to the ethics test that all appointed and elected officials in Massachusetts need to take.

Here is the interesting point.  Back in June Executive Session minutes of the Town Council were leaked by one of the members of the Town Council.  This is in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth. (I have written about this before)  One of the 7 who sit there each week (I say 7 because one of them was not on the Council when the leak took place) obviously violated the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that they took an oath to uphold.  I also find it interesting that this particular Councilor is one of only three sitting Councilors that has not publicly stated if she is the leaker or not!

There is a cloud that hangs over the Council and their moral authority has been severely weakened by the fact that none of them (save one) is interested in find out who the leaker is.  Politicians are under a great deal of pressure, it comes with the job.  The difficult economic times we find ourselves in does not make it easy.  Citizens speaking during citizens forum, and sometimes putting members of the Council on the spot to try and make them look foolish for political points, does not help either.  However I expect that MY elected officials would show the residents and taxpayers of this town the respect that is due them as residents and tax payers of this town.  The Town Council gets it right to govern us by the consent of us, those who are governed.

The Council is divided 4/4 right now and for the most part things are still getting accomplished and the Town is limping forward slowly.  What all of the Councilors need to remember is that we are all watching and we demand a certain level of respect, I would also say to the residents that WE should respect our elected officials as well, however the elected officials NEED to respect us if they hope to retain their positions.

Enough of the snide remarks, enough of the trying to embarrass one another, enough of talking down to the residents, the people who put you in those seats.  Enough of the Jr. High antics it is time to start to govern and do the jobs you were elected to do.  It is also time for the leaky councilor to come clean.  You know who you are, you have taken the Ethics Test, you know what you did was wrong, and you need to confess and resign so the cloud will pass and we can move on.

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