Falmouth Residents Call for a Mayor

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By: Brent Runyon
Published: 09/10/10

A group of Falmouth residents are calling for the restructuring of Falmouth government, claiming that the lack of a central leader has resulted in the public’s disillusionment with the current system.

John F. Flanagan Jr. of Kettle Hole Road, Falmouth, and F. Bradley Stumcke Jr. of Sailfish Drive, East Falmouth, have submitted a petitioners article, signed by 15 other residents, that will appear on the Town Meeting Warrant in November.

“The Town of Falmouth is a $100 plus million a year operation and the present form of governing the finances, manpower and operations need restructuring. Government by committees and the lack of a central leader has resulted in many citizens becoming disillusioned with the present form of government,” the article reads.

It calls on Town Meeting to create a charter commission with the goal of developing an improved form of government in Falmouth.

Mr. Flanagan, a former candidate for selectman and former chairman of the transportation management commission, said the lack of a central leader has resulted in mismanagement townwide.

“Our form of government is basically dysfunctional and has systematic problems,” Mr. Flanagan said. “Somebody is asleep at the switch.”

A mayoral proclamation

Falmouth would be better served by a mayor, he said, rather than the town manager, the board of selectmen, and the dozens of volunteer committees that govern the town.

Mr. Flanagan cited the Falmouth High School renovation project, the lack of enforcement of trash flow policies, the controversy involving the sealed criminal records of Constable George Morse, the boil water order earlier this summer, and the water pressure issues in Ballymeade as symptoms of poor leadership.

Most recently, he said, the town’s decision to give the three Falmouth police captains pay raises, while other town employees are asked to take furlough days, as an obvious trigger for building resentment and lowered morale townwide.

An elected mayor assisted by a strong town council would run Falmouth better than the town manager, the board of selectmen, and volunteer committees, he said.

As a hired employee, Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. is more concerned about his own job than running the town, Mr. Flanagan said, “He’s not working for the people.”

Mr. Flanagan said instituting a mayor would not mean firing Mr. Whritenour and Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper. They might take a role as counselors, serving the mayor, he said.

The board of selectmen takes too much time dealing with its own personal conflicts, he said.

“There’s five of them, and all they do is fight amongst each other,” Mr. Flanagan said. A better system might include one elected representative from each of the town’s nine precincts, who could represent their constituents’ concerns.

Selectmen, committees doing 'too little, too late'

Selectmen’s recent move to focus on larger issues is too little, too late, he said. “You’ve got a locomotive bearing down on them and they’re still trying to lay track,” he said.

The town also relies too heavily on volunteer committees, he said. The role of the dozens of committees is unclear, he said: some have power, some are only advisory, and others have no power at all.

“The chairman of the affordable housing committee got up in front of selectmen and said that we needed more affordable housing for our policemen, our firefighters, and our teachers, and nobody asked the key question: what percentage of our current employees are using our affordable housing now?” Mr. Flanagan said.

Another problem with the current government is that the town’s school committee operates outside of the control of the town government.

One aspect of the current town government that should remain in place is Town Meeting, he said. “I would preserve the role of Town Meeting. That’s the voice of the people,” he said.

Ultimately, a mayor would allow someone with key leadership skills to take control of the town as it approaches key problems, such as wastewater management, water supply, and a changing economic reality, he said. A mayor who did a bad job could simply be voted out of office.

Mr. Flanagan said he is not aiming at making himself the mayor of Falmouth. “No. I’m too old,” he said.

Asked if he would make a good mayor if he were younger, he said, “Sure I would.”

He also said his involvement in this Town Meeting article is not a response to his failure to be elected a selectman.

“I have business and leadership experience and you elected a part-time social studies teacher,” Mr. Flanagan said, referring to Selectman Melissa C. Freitag, who is a professor of history and comparative politics at Cape Cod Community College.

“Okay, if that’s what you want. You made your choices, and now you’ve got to live with it.”

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