News, Opinion

Guest Commentary: Saugus Town Meeting deserves impartial moderator

Last Tuesday, July 16, current Saugus Town Moderator Robert Long wrote a guest commentary entitled “Better Communication Needed in Saugus.” Within that commentary Mr. Long states that “only in the past year and a half has there been any voicing of displeasure with my performance as moderator.”

He then wrote, “It probably comes as no surprise that the two people not pleased with me are Mr. DiNardo and a well-known Town Meeting member from Precinct 10.” (meaning me). Finally, he intimates that a previously written letter by Al DiNardo “has a similar writing style” as myself and “they both like to use quotes from the same past presidents as well.”

I will address the last point first. I did not author the previous letter that was critical of Mr. Long. Although I admire Harry Truman, I do not recall ever quoting him in a letter or during a presentation. If Mr. Long could have found such an example in all those shopping bags full of VCR tapes he brought to Town Meeting in May that he claims to use as reference, I am sure he would have been able to cite a particular instance.

Actually, the President I am most fond of and often quote is James Madison, a champion of a republican form of government that has adequate checks and balances, that will guarantee the common good, prevent tyranny and prevent “shadow” governments.

Second, Mr. Long’s assertion that there are only two people in Town Meeting that are not pleased with him is also fallacious. The Item never reported, perhaps because the reporter left the meeting before it adjourned, that on June 3, 2013, the Saugus Town Meeting voted 22-15 to pass a comprehensive bylaw with strict enforcement provisions that would establish behavior expectations for any Saugus Town Moderator. It would seem that Mr. Long forgot about the other 20 votes on June 3 when he wrote his commentary last week and claimed that only two people are not pleased with him.

Bylaw 212.00 now enumerates nine expectations including, but not limited to, “It shall be the duty of the Moderator that when filling vacancies on the Finance Committee the Moderator will use a public process, such as the Town’s web site or other suitable means to solicit qualified applicants from the community”¦.” and “It shall be the duty of the moderator to neither influence or participate in the deliberations of the Finance Committee,” and to “read all articles and announce all votes without offering interpretive statements, judgments or commentary.” Most Town Meeting members want a Town Moderator who is neutral, fair, and unbiased both during and outside of Town Meeting. Most want a Moderator who is an impartial referee, not a partisan player.

In spite of the adoption of this bylaw, Mr. Long has made it clear that he will not abide by the wishes of Town Meeting because the bylaw has yet to be “approved” by the Attorney General. Mr. Long, the advocate of “communication” and “free speech” and “voter involvement” once again refused to inform the public that there were three vacancies on the Saugus Finance Committee. Is it any surprise that he would now speak against the proposal adopted by an overwhelming majority, over 70%, of Town Meeting members on April 22?

What’s happening in Saugus is not about free speech, communication, voter involvement or any of the other “red herrings” that Mr. Long claims. What’s happening in Saugus is that there is now a Town Manager who makes decisions notwithstanding the wrath of Bob Long. Mr. Crabtree is the only Town Manager I can recall who invites and includes all Town Meeting members to discuss his initiatives. This is why Mr. Long has approached the three Selectmen that support Mr. Crabtree and shared his unhappiness with Mr. Crabtree’s “communication.” He obviously perceives that Mr. Crabtree is going around him, not to him, as the previous Manager did.

Let’s not forget it was in June 2011 that Mr. Long convinced and guided the Finance Committee to “reconsider” their recommendation on a water rate increase of 5% and up it to 9%. It has since been revealed that those water rates were grossly inflated to support contractors and services that had nothing to do with water. Moody’s Investor Services downgraded Saugus’ bond rating in 2012 largely in part because of this illegal practice. The Massachusetts Inspector General is now conducting an investigation.

Saugus Town Meeting needs to hear that Mr. Long’s presentation before the Joint Committee on Public Service of the Massachusetts Legislature to oppose a measure overwhelmingly adopted by Town Meeting was not offered from Robert Long, the Town Meeting member who relinquished the gavel to speak when the measure passed in April, but as Robert Long ”“ Saugus Town Moderator. That’s how he signed in and presented.

While Mr. Long’s commentary is full of half truths and suspicion, I know of no other Massachusetts Moderator who has had a bylaw passed to regulate his behavior. I would champion Mr. Long’s right as a citizen to testify and say whatever he wants. I will continue to speak out and oppose his use of the position of “Moderator” to fulfill his agenda.

Saugus Town Meeting will ultimately determine if any Moderator has a right to use the title of “Saugus Town Moderator” to give more weight to his words and his actions. Should they allow this to continue then we no longer have a Moderator who is the dispassionate referee applying rules of procedure and fairness.

If Mr. Long is so concerned about voter participation and stability as he claims I would offer two immediate suggestions. First, he should contact Representative Donald Wong and urge him to advocate for pending legislation passed by Town Meeting, now stuck in committee, which would allow Saugus voters to decide if they want “staggered elections.” Second, if Mr. Long truly has faith in the voters’ ability to make critical decisions for Saugus he should also ask for a non-binding referendum that will allow the Saugus voters to indicate if they want to elect their Town Moderator as is the case in almost every other Massachusetts town.

In Federalist #47, James Madison wrote, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Peter Manoogian is a member of Saugus Town Meeting.

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