Selectman Steve Gonsalves stormed out of the meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen on February 6 after a shouting match that escalated after Gonsalves interrupted Town Administrator Paul Dawson’s update on the town’s search for an interim Department of Public Works superintendent after Rob Zora’s December retirement.
When Dawson mentioned that current Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Frank Cooper and former selectman Jonathan Henry had expressed interest in the interim position, Gonsalves confronted Dawson and accused him and the two other selectmen of keeping Gonsalves out of the loop.
When the selectmen first held a special meeting on December 14 to discuss Zora’s seemingly sudden retirement, Dawson told Gonsalves he had to recuse himself from voting on the DPW position because Gonsalves has a son who works for the DPW and that would be a conflict of interest.
Although at the December 14 meeting Gonsalves abided by Dawson’s advice, Gonsalves disclosed the night of February 6 that he had contacted the State Ethics Commission on his own, which issued him a “favorable response,” Gonsalves said, saying he could take part in the superintendent discussion because there is a supervisor between Gonsalves and his son at the DPW; therefore, there is no direct conflict of interest.
Gonsalves lamented how he was first contacted before that December special meeting when Dawson’s assistant told him of the meeting but said that he could not participate in the vote.
“I got a little upset about it,” Gonsalves said. ”My frustration was, how can I not be a part of this decision that’s so important to the town?”
Gonsalves retold how the events unfolded, including how he had initially disagreed with Dawson’s opinion on the conflict of interest.
“I feel you’re there to guide me,” Gonsalves told Dawson. “I was a little taken aback that the decision was made for me that I was in violation.” Gonsalves added that Dawson should have taken the initiative and contacted State Ethics himself before rendering his opinion on the matter.
Before long, Gonsalves said, he had begun hearing about the matter, not from the selectmen but from the public, until he became “sick and tired” of it.
“I heard so many things on the street and so much stuff that my head’s gonna pop,” said Gonsalves. According to Gonsalves, he had proved to Dawson some time ago that he would not be in violation if he were to participate in the DPW interim position vote, so he should have been informed immediately about any information the selectmen had acquired thus far; however, he was not, he said.
“Since I’ve been allowed to participate in this process, I have not been brought up to full speed on this,” Gonsalves asserted. “When you knew I could [participate in discussions],” Gonsalves said to Dawson, “You weren’t there to let me know … so I don’t know where we are at this point.”
Gonsalves said, as an elected official, he shouldn’t have to get his information passing through the post office.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson stopped Gonsalves, but Gonsalves wasn’t done yet. He had more frustration to vent.
“Now, I hear that Jon Henry is part of this,” said Gonsalves.
Gonsalves inquired about the timing of Henry’s expression of interest in the position, saying he had even approached Henry himself, and Gonsalves said Henry told him, “I can’t talk right now.”
“I want to know, what is going on?” said Gonsalves.
Dickerson shut Gonsalves down, but Gonsalves continued, even as Dickerson loudly hammered his gavel on the desk repeatedly.
“I want this discussion tabled immediately until I am brought into the loop on this,” Gonsalves shouted. “I want to be brought into this loop right now! I want it!”
Gonsalves made a motion to table the discussion.
“Do I have a second?” Gonsalves asked. “No,” said Hills. “No,” said Dickerson.
“All right, why?” asked Gonsalves. “Now you’re telling me I don’t have the right to table this?”
“That’s how this works,” said Dickerson.
Then Gonsalves asked Dickerson why he had to hear it from residents that Dickerson himself applied for the DPW interim superintendent position.
“I was showing interest in this and I have decided I did not,” said Dickerson.
The contention continued as Gonsalves pressed for information surrounding both Dickerson’s and Henry’s interest in the position, asking intensely, “Why didn’t I know this?”
“You weren’t involved at the point,” said Hills. According to Hills, this information was known to the board for “three or four weeks.”
“Nobody has approached me on this,” Gonsalves said, as Dickerson demanded the board move on from the conversation. “Moving on, really?” said Gonsalves. “Transparency, anyone? Does anyone know how to spell it?”
Gonsalves told Dawson, “I’m insulted and I’m disgusted.”
“At me? What have I done?” asked Dawson.
It soon came to the point when Gonsalves said it was only just yesterday that he had discovered Dickerson and Henry were both in the ring for the interim position. Dickerson shot back that he had simply just changed his mind.
“This was yesterday, gentlemen,” said Gonsalves. “Things change awful quick.”
The shouting continued between Gonsalves and Dawson, until Dawson told Gonsalves that town counsel also shared his opinion on the conflict of interest, and Gonsalves erupted in anger.
“You didn’t tell me that!” said Gonsalves.
After all that, Gonsalves abruptly announced that he no longer had any interest in participating in the DPW interim position discussion.
“I’m not voting on this,” Gonsalves said. “I’m gonna leave the room. I’m not voting on this. I don’t want any part of this.”
After he left, Hills disclosed that he was the one who approached Henry with the opportunity to apply for the temporary position, and Henry liked the idea, Hills said – but only as a temporary position.
Just as Hills made the motion to hire Henry, followed by Dickerson’s second, Marion resident T.J. Walker asked how long the interim position would last. Dawson told him roughly six months or until the DPW study results are ready for review.
The two selectmen in the room then appointed Henry, and Gonsalves returned shortly after.
In other matters, Alan Minard and Rob Lane on behalf of the Subcommittee of the Town House Building Committee asked for guidance on how to proceed now that the committee’s study on a Mill Street administrative building is wrapping up.
Dickerson said he would prefer to see the numbers from the study, but Minard asked him why that would be necessary when it would be up to the public to decide on which option it would prefer to pursue and ultimately fund.
With tension still in the air from the outburst, the selectmen agreed to hold a public meeting to present the subcommittee’s findings, along with the option the original Town House Building Committee came up with last year.
Lane said once the subcommittee holds its next meeting next week and reviews all the final data, he would contact the Board of Selectmen to schedule a public meeting.
After a second brief discussion with Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum and Town Planner Gil Hilario that preceded the board’s quarrel, the board voted to adopt the Complete Streets Policy with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Planning Board had discussed and been working towards this point for some time now.
Gonsalves at first was hesitant, saying, “I don’t know, I’m kind of a little bit on the fence about it.” He wondered if it was worth it for the Town to engage in an agreement such as this, but Marum, Hilario, and Dickerson convinced him it was fine.
“It’s not a mandatory thing,” Dickerson said. “It’s a guidance. I do not personally see any downfall to it.”
The Complete Streets Policy would make the town eligible for up to $400,000 annually in state grant funding for street, sidewalk, and bike path projects.
“It opens the door to more grant money, and the government and the lieutenant governor are behind this agreement and the community compact,” said Marum. “I think that lends credence and support and credibility to the program because you have the top manager in the state – the governor – who is behind this program.”
With that, the vote was unanimous.
Also during the meeting, the board approved a $2,400 contract to hire Land Stewardship, Inc. to provide the town with a management plan for Sprague’s Cove.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen will be February 20 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry