Marion Selectman Steve Gonsalves submitted a letter of resignation from the Board of Selectmen on Thursday, February 22, a sudden move that Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson said took him by surprise.
In his letter of resignation dated February 21, Gonsalves wrote only one sentence: “I hereby tender my resignation as Selectman for the Town of Marion, effective immediately.”
During a phone call on February 23, Gonsalves said he had only four words to explain why he resigned.
“I have a conscience,” stated Gonsalves, “and that’s all I’ve got to say.”
“I was surprised,” said Dickerson on February 23 in response to the resignation. “I thank Steve for his work for the town. It probably wasn’t an easy decision, but I wish him happiness and success in his future business.”
During the February 6 selectmen’s meeting, there was a contentious exchange amongst the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Paul Dawson when Gonsalves accused Dawson and the two other selectmen of unfairly excluding him from the selection process for a Department of Public Works interim superintendent. Gonsalves differed with Dawson’s and town counsel’s opinion on whether or not Gonsalves faced a conflict of interest in the matter.
The conflict of interest pertained to the board’s search for an interim Department of Public Works superintendent and whether Gonsalves, whose son is a DPW employee, could participate in that search.
Gonsalves was adamant that the State Ethics Commission’s response to his inquiry cleared him of any potential conflict of interest, citing a part in the letter that stated no conflict would exist if another supervisor stood between Gonsalves’ son and the superintendent.
However, during the Board of Selectmen meeting on February 20, Selectman Norm Hills disagreed with Gonsalves’ interpretation, saying that State Ethics in that same sentence essentially negated the prior statement if the DPW superintendent was responsible for union contract negotiations that could affect Gonsalves’ son’s salary and benefits or if the superintendent exercised authority over working conditions that could benefit Gonsalves’ son.
Gonsalves had announced two hours before the February 20 meeting that he would not be attending the meeting, so he was not present to comment and did not return a phone call from The Wanderer after the meeting.
On February 23, Gonsalves – who is still tree warden for the Town of Marion – thanked the townspeople who had supported him over the years.
“It means a lot to me,” said Gonsalves. “It was a tough decision.”
During a special meeting called for Monday, February 26, the remaining two selectmen reassigned to themselves the various committee and subcommittee seats Gonsalves had served on as a representative of the Board of Selectmen, including the Affordable Housing Trust which now goes to Hills, along with the Town House Building Committee and its subcommittee. Dickerson will now serve as the selectmen’s liaison with the Old Rochester Regional School Committee. The board left the seats for the Community Preservation Committee and the Parks Department open until after the annual election.
Dickerson is not running for reelection for another three-year term.
The board also refrained from appointing a vice chairman until after the election.
What happens next for the Board of Selectmen and the town? On the ballot for the May 18 election will be two open slots for Board of Selectmen – one for a three-year term to replace outgoing Selectman Jody Dickerson and the other for a one-year term to replace Gonsalves.
The board discussed options for filling Gonsalves’ seat, which included the possibility of a special town election for the one-year term; however, the board declined that option after Town Administrator Paul Dawson on February 26 explained the situation to the selectmen. The soonest a special election could be held would be April 30, only 18 days before the annual election – which would grant the new selectman only one Board of Selectmen meeting before the Annual Town Meeting and would cost an additional $4,000.
Nomination papers for the Annual Town Election are still available at the Town Clerk’s Office, and deadline to return the papers to the Town Clerk’s Office is March 26 at 5:00 pm. The election will take place on Friday, May 18.
By Jean Perry