Four candidates vie for two seats on the Board of Selectmen. With the retirement of Paul Bresnahan, a thoughtful, moderate, and objective voice on the board for over nine years, many of us wonder whether the personal attacks occurring at recent BOS meetings will finally drag the board to new depths of dysfunction.
Last year, for example, one selectman launched a series of attacks on Ayer’s town counsel during a televised board meeting. Apparently under the assumption that repetition is the equivalent of establishing truth, the selectman simply kept rephrasing and repeating the same assertions about Mark Rich’s motives and character, despite Mr. Rich’s rational and thorough — though understandably exasperated — rebuttals.
Earlier this year, three members of the BOS reprimanded that same selectman for inappropriately filing charges against Ayer Police Chief Richard Rizzo — televised charges that took up many hours of BOS business at taxpayer expense. Nothing has come of this grandstanding. The selectman was unfazed by the reprimand, and shortly thereafter attacked again, calling for the resignation of Shaun Suhoski, the town administrator, after Mr. Suhoski had been in his job but a month. It was a mean-spirited ambush, carried out in a televised meeting, with no prior attempt by that selectman to take his complaints though normal administrative channels. Nothing of substance has resulted from this televised stagecraft, though the selectman continues to comb administrative minutiae in search of fodder for his loose cannon.
In similar fashion, that same selectman has singled out MassDevelopment as a convenient target of blame. Rather than find ways to gain commitments from an organization with which he disagrees, the selectman chooses to rail against any people, proposals or projects that come from the semi-private corporation. So imaginative are his attacks that they include the breathtakingly-ridiculous assertion that the agency plans a nuclear waste dump in Ayer.
Heaping blame on groups and individuals arises from a simple calculus: Human beings desire simplicity, and politicians need convenient targets. (Public servants fit the bill nicely). The blame game attracts attention and headlines. Meanwhile compromise, complex policy making, and the heavy lifting associated with governmental progress languishes.
The politics of personal destruction irreparably damage those attacked. On moral grounds alone, that should cause elected officials to be wary of blame-game politics. When personal destruction occupies center stage at BOS meetings, it directly affects the rest of us — creating needless distractions, stalling progress and wasting tax dollars.
One might hope that the Attack Selectman would eventually marginalize himself as a harmless, if misguided, gadfly. But on some occasions, a fellow selectman has declined to support BOS reprimands of the Attack Selectman. On others, the fellow selectman has supported, and thus enabled, these ad hominem assaults, thereby magnifying, and perpetuating, the spectacle.
So, whoever among you may become the next members of the BOS, please dedicate yourselves to working with people, rather than destroying people. Better to leave a legacy of progress and compromise than a history of blame-and-attack tactics that yield attention-getting headlines, and televised melodrama while wasting our time and tax dollars.