Fire Chief Thomas Joyce fired back at the Marion Finance Committee in front of selectmen on May 6, saying he is baffled by the seeming hostility and accusations that he “would not provide timely and adequate information,” “would not collaborate with the town,” and “’get[s] defensive’ when questioned,” quoted Chief Joyce from an April 29 article in The Wanderer (See the May 1 issue).
The chief read the entire six-page statement he prepared, defending his actions throughout the process of seeking Town Meeting approval to purchase a new fire engine pumper which is featured on the May 12 Annual Town Meeting Warrant.
During an April 29 meeting, the FinCom candidly expressed their intention to recommend the passing over of Article 15, saying the chief has not cooperated in the process of providing information, most notably a specific quote for an amount to appear in the article.
“Yet, I have attended every meeting that I have been asked to attend, answered every question asked, and provided whatever documentation requested that I have available,” stated Joyce.
Joyce said he has not deviated from the customary process of obtaining an approximate bid for the proposed vehicle when asking for Town Meeting to appropriate the money before purchasing the vehicle.
“I followed the common practice used by the rest of the Town where a purchase … is funded by town meeting action prior to it going to bid,” read Joyce. “Second, even if this were not the normal acquisition process, I am neither responsible for, nor have I any say as to what goes on the warrant.”
Selectman Jonathan Henry concurred with Joyce. Henry said you start with a general set of specifications, get an approximate amount, “and then that is brought to Town Meeting,” said Henry.
“Even if we did find a truck, without having an appropriation approved and available, we would not be able to purchase it in a timely manner,” stated Joyce.
Joyce vehemently defended himself against accusations that he has not been transparent and willing with FinCom, saying all along, meeting after meeting, Joyce was dismissed without further questions regarding the fire truck.
FinCom Chairman Alan Minard’s statement at the April 30 meeting about passing over the article and “embarrass[ing] the chief on Town Meeting floor” was especially offensive to Joyce.
“It is not only indicative of a personal attack, but it is disrespectful and unprofessional,” said Joyce. His statement continues, “I am appalled that the FinCom feels that they need to personally attack me … Their threat to personally attack me on Town Meeting floor is unacceptable and has clearly created a hostile work environment.”
FinCom members criticized the $548,000 quote that Joyce had previously suggested, with two members saying they researched similar vehicles and came up with much lower prices, to the tune of $290,000, according to Minard. Joyce questioned whether they were looking at used or new, and said FinCom did not know the specs of the proposed truck because they had only received a copy of them on April 28.
“One must compare apples to apples,” said Joyce.
According to Joyce, Mattapoisett appropriated $550,000 in 2011 to purchase a new pumper which wound up costing $536,000. In Wareham, he stated, they appropriated $581,000 for a new pumper and “eventually spent every dime.”
“The FinCom has made every effort to thwart the purchase of a replacement pumper,” said Joyce. “They have neglected to grant my request for a meeting specific to this matter almost a year ago, not the other way around.” He continued, “Now they wish to squeeze out whatever life may be left by sending it to a committee.”
Joyce stated, regardless of the selectmen’s opinion on the article, “you need to hear the rest of the story.”
“I cannot fathom the reasons behind this personal attack,” said Joyce. He later said, “I … ask you, as the Town Fathers and my bosses, address and put a stop to these personal threats and actions that detract from our purpose and only serve to cloud the real issues.”
Selectman Stephen Cushing agreed that what he read in the newspaper led him to believe that it was indeed a personal attack on Joyce and that there is “some kind of issue.”
“I am absolutely opposed to passing over this article,” said Henry. He called it “illegal” to have an exact quote for a purchase of this significance without prior appropriation.
“For a committee to expect to get bid-ready documents,” said Henry, “It’s just illegal.” He said he found no reason to pass on the article and he was “distressed by how this has come about.”
“I could not agree with you more,” said Chairman Jody Dickerson.
Joyce said he does not want a contentious relationship with FinCom, and he wants to get past this.
“Tommy Joyce did not design this truck,” said the chief. “The truck committee came up with the specs.” All he did, said Joyce, was cut the price down further to save more money. “I’m not going to drive this truck,” Joyce emphasized.
The board will go forward with the article, said Henry.
“Someone should apologize to you, Chief,” said Henry. “I’m sorry that this was directed at you … and we’ll rectify that somehow.” Henry continued, “Sorry that it fell on you that way … on behalf of the Town’s fathers here.”
In other contentious matters, several residents from the Inland Road and Dexter Way area argued that their private roads should be accepted by the Town and plowed and sanded during winter storms; they were ultimately told that no one other than the voters could make that decision.
The town initially sought counsel about the matter since it was concerned about liability and legal issues involved with taking over responsibility for snow removal.
Department of Public Works Superintendent Rob Zora told selectmen that Marion has about 80 miles of road: 32 miles are town-owned, 14 state-owned (Routes 6 and 105), and 34 miles are privately owned.
The annual budget for snow removal of the 32 town-owned roads is $50,000 but Special Town Meeting annually appropriates an additional $40,000.
Zora said that if the Town takes on the snow removal of private roads, the budget would double, as well as the many phone calls to the office during winter storms.
“To double it now would double everything as far as I can see,” said Zora.
“The Town is a target because it has deep pockets because of the insurance,” said Henry, concerned about liability.
Town Administrator Paul Dawson said he would not anticipate insurance rates to rise dramatically right away.
Inland Road resident Al Caron referenced Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40 Section 6c, which allows a town to plow private ways without having to take other road maintenance, alleviating the Town’s concern over liability.
Caron argued with Zora over emergency access during storms, and then Caron asked to feature an article requesting the measure to appear on the Fall Town Meeting warrant.
But as Dawson pointed out, even though Caron will not like the answer as he put it, the law that Caron cited requires a petition of 200 signatures in order to appear specifically on the Annual Town Election ballot for voters to decide if the Town will appropriate funds for private road paving.
In addition to that, the private roads must be open to public use in order to qualify. Dawson emphasized that this is the State’s law, not the Town’s law.
“We’re not asking for the moon,” said Caron “We’re just looking for simple services.”
Other residents found Zora’s responses to their concerns “negative” and “inconsiderate,” speaking out in favor of their cause with one resident accusing the Town of paving private roads where, allegedly, a town official lives, specifically mentioning Planting Island Road.
Zora denied the claim, saying the Town owns and plows the causeway, but stops at the entrance to Planting Island.
Caron told Dawson to “pencil us in for next year” at Town Meeting.
“Because we’re gonna get the word out.”
The 2014 Annual Town Meeting is May 12 at 6:15 pm at the Sippican School, and the next scheduled meeting of the Board of Selectmen is May 20 at 7:00 pm at the Town House.
By Jean Perry