Saugus Town Meeting moderator shuts down school custodian supporter

SAUGUS — A Town Meeting member says he is being silenced after he was not allowed to read a resolution that supported school custodians. Twice.

“This is absurd,” said precinct 5 Town Meeting member Ron Wallace. “I’m totally being silenced.”

Town Counsel John Vasapolli said the body has three functions: to appropriate funds for the town budget, adopt or amend bylaws, and accept local option statutes.

“Town Meeting does not spend the funds that they appropriate,” said Vasapolli. “They don’t appoint town officials. They don’t hire employees. They don’t sign contracts. They don’t negotiate contracts. Even when this Town Meeting appropriates money, the town manager or the school side are not required to spend that money.”

Contracts for the school district’s 20 custodians are set to expire on June 30 and members of Local 262 believe their jobs will be lost to privatization.

A Request for Proposals obtained by The Item states that “the School District currently staffs custodial/cleaning and light maintenance services. The District is seeking proposals for custodial/cleaning services from private companies …”

New hires are expected to “begin July 1, 2019,” a day after the current contracts expire.

“The proposer must demonstrate the needed organizational abilities to successfully implement the transition from our current service to the new program within the proposed timeline,” according to the document.

Listed under staffing requirements, the RFP specifies that the contractor must agree to interview Saugus Public Schools employees “who may be displaced by the execution of this contract” for open positions.

Wallace said he was “disgusted” that no elected officials have spoken out in support of the custodians and came prepared with a non-binding resolution in hand. A group of custodians and  AFSCME Council 93 members filled in at the back of the room.

But moderator Steve Doherty stopped Wallace from reading the document.

“The idea of a resolution being presented on the night of a meeting kind of goes against the state’s and the town’s intent to give fair notice to the citizens and allow those who have a stake in the conversation to come forward and speak about it,” said Doherty.

Wallace argued that the resolution was non-binding.

“It has no teeth,” he said. “This is just Ron Wallace, lifelong Saugus resident, wanting to read something supporting school custodians who may possibly lose their jobs.”

Wallace first requested to read the resolution at a May 6 meeting, but Doherty denied the request. Following the meeting, Doherty said he referenced Robert’s Rules of Order, Massachusetts State Laws governing the rules of conduct for Town Meeting, consulted with the president of the Massachusetts Moderator Association, reached out to moderators in similarly situated communities, and spoke to other elected officials in Saugus.

The consensus was that Robert’s Rules of Order do not mention the term “Town Meeting” or “warrant,” said Doherty.

“What it does state clearly in Massachusetts law is that any action taken on a subject is not valid unless it was listed on the warrant,” he said.

Wallace pointed out that two years ago, a voter presented a resolution to recommend the Finance Committee conduct a study on health benefits in town. Members decided they wanted to hear and vote on the resolution. It passed.

“The fact that a mistake was made two years ago doesn’t mean we have to continue making the mistake going forward,” said Doherty.

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