Wrangling Continues Over Bourne Charter Compliance
By: Diana T. Barth
John A. Ford, Jr., chairman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen, has tentatively set Tuesday, September 18, for what hopefully will be “a meeting of the minds” over unresolved questions of board members’ compliance with the town charter.
Mr. Ford said this week that he hopes to bring that date before his fellow board members this coming Tuesday, if both Town Counsel Robert S. Troy and Michael D. Ford, who acted as special counsel to the town’s Charter Compliance Committee, can be present on that date.
The Bourne Charter Compliance Committee voted 3 to 2 on August 15 that Selectman Donald J. Pickard violated the town’s charter by conducting an independent investigation that involved requesting copies of e-mails sent by Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino. That request, which went to Finance Director Linda A. Marzelli, was made without prior authorization by the Board of Selectmen.
Gray Gables residents Richard W. and Judith W. Conron filed a complaint saying that Mr. Pickard’s independent actions were in violation of the charter.
In agreeing with the Conrons’ complaint, the majority of the Charter Compliance Committee adopted a draft decision prepared by compliance committee chairman Lucia Fulco and attached findings written by committee member Don C. Hayward.
Selectman Ford said he feels there were inaccuracies in that decisions and implications in those findings, that need to be sorted out and explained to the public.
Neither Mr. Pickard, nor Selectman Ford, who was also named in the complaint, but whose alleged charter violation was never sustained, came before the committee. They considered the questions a matter of law, Mr. Ford said.
Now, however, there are some matters on which he would like to set the factual record straight.
Selectmen, he said this week, had every right to look at the process by which the town administrator, their employee, conducted his search for a Council on Aging director. That process was the subject of the e-mails that were requested. The board, he said, is the administrator’s boss.
Further, he said individual selectmen have the right to investigate and request public records unilaterally, and then bring the information, and their opinion, before the board for a transparent discussion.
That, he feels, is what they did.
On August 20, after the Charter Compliance Committee issued its decision, committee member Diane M. Flynn filed a minority opinion, asserting, among other things, her opinion that the committee should have ratified the opinion of Special Counsel Michael Ford (no relation to Selectman Ford).
Attorney Ford found that Mr. Pickard had not violated the charter and warned that it would greatly hamper selectmen were they to be required to ask board permission to look into every matter on the agenda before they could investigate those matters prior to a vote.
Prior to that, Mr. Conron requested copies of the e-mails and other correspondence between Town Counsel Troy and Attorney Ford, the committee’s independent counsel. While Mr. Troy deemed that correspondence privileged, Selectman Ford said he asked that the e-mails be reviewed and Mr. Conron be provided information as to their contents. Mr. Conron said this week that he is awaiting a formal reply to his request.
Given the unresolved questions and issues that have been raised. Mr. Ford hopes that a discussion of the differing points of view might clear the air.
While the decision of the committee is not binding on selectmen, if any selectman were to make such an independent investigation in the future, committee members could ask Mr. Troy to bring the alleged violation before a superior court judge.