Mashpee Charter Review Committee Controversy

The recent trend of contentious and accusatory town government meetings continued on Monday evening at a public hearing to review amendments recommended by the Mashpee Charter Review Committee.

During the meeting, town planner F. Thomas Fudala accused committee members Theresa M. Cook and Charles E. Gasior of committing an ethics violation for casting votes to recommend that certain town boards, including the finance committee and the board of health, remain appointed, as well as voting to make the town clerk an appointed position rather than an elected office. Committee member Mary E. Waygan also reprimanded her peers for not allowing the town clerk vote to be reconsidered, thereby allowing her to cast a vote for or against the recommended amendment. 

Ms. Waygan and Richard Halpern were not in attendance at the April 24 meeting of the charter review committee when a 4-to-3 vote was cast to move an amendment forward to appoint, rather than elect, the town clerk.

In order for changes to be made to the charter, amendments must receive a two-thirds vote at the next Town Meeting in October, and then must receive a majority vote as ballot questions in the May 2015 town election.

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The charter committee has been reviewing what is commonly referred to as the “town constitution” for nearly a year. The charter itself dictates that the committee be comprised of two selectmen, two finance committee and school committee members, a planning board representative, and two at-large members appointed by the town moderator.

The elected vs. appointed status of the town clerk, as well as the salary of current Mashpee Town Clerk Deborah F. Dami have been hot topics as of late. At last week’s Mashpee Town Meeting, Ms. Dami advocated for—and won by a hand count—a 7.1 percent pay raise.

Ms. Dami was unable to attend this week’s charter review hearing, but submitted a letter, urging the town clerk position remain elected, to be read into the record.

“Having the town clerk remain elected removes any political influence that might arise. While the position remains independent, he or she is still required to collaborate with other town departments on matters of shared interest and budgeting. I can assure you, through my tenure as Mashpee’s elected town clerk, the strength of the ‘town team’ is not affected by the fact that the position is currently elected,” she wrote.

Mr. Fudala, one of only three people to attend the public hearing, said that he was strongly opposed to making the town clerk position appointed, as he believes that voters already have little control over town government. He then surprised the committee by accusing Ms. Cook and Mr. Gasior of violating ethics laws by not recusing themselves from the April 24 vote, as they are members of an appointed board and had a conflict of interest.

“Are you implying that I don’t know the ethics laws, Mr. Fudala?” Ms. Cook, a two-decade veteran of town government, asked.

Edward H. Larkin, chairman of the committee, defended Ms. Cook and Mr. Gasior by telling Mr. Fudala that they were wearing “different hats” as members of an assigned committee and that they were not voting as members of the finance committee.

A vote was then taken to refer the issue to town counsel, with Ms. Waygan amending the motion to also send an inquiry to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha M. Coakley’s office.

“I just don’t see it. One thing I pride myself on is my integrity and it was called into question. Why were Chuck and I specifically targeted? We’ve sunk to new lows when an appointed town department head attacks volunteer board members,” Ms. Cook said, noting that her intention was to put the town clerk election versus appointment question on a town ballot to allow voters to decide the outcome.

Ms. Waygan then proceeded to push for a vote to reconsider the town clerk vote, saying she was “offended that the committee didn’t wait for her and that it smelled like three-day-old fish.”

Mr. Larkin then suggested that if a vote were to be recast, then it could happen at the next meeting when all members would be present. Mr. Halpern was also not in attendance at this week’s meeting.

Prior to the adjournment of the testy meeting, a decision was made to conduct another public hearing on Monday, June 23, at 6:30 PM.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Town Manager Joyce M. Mason was asked whether the recent unruly Town Meeting and charter review hearing were reflective of Mashpee being a fractured community.

“If I wasn’t here as long as I have been, it would be easy to think that, but it is a very small, core group of people playing games. Mashpee is not a fractured community. We have five selectmen that work very well together and a finance committee that is constantly looking at how taxpayer dollars are being spent. If you are only able to get 230 voters at Town Meeting, you’re not getting the true voice of the town. There’s just a group out there that doesn’t understand civility,” she said.

Update 5/15/14: The following paragraph:

During the meeting, town planner F. Thomas Fudala accused committee members Theresa M. Cook and Charles E. Gasior of committing an ethics violation for casting votes to recommend that the town clerk position be appointed rather than elected. Committee member Mary E. Waygan also reprimanded her peers for not allowing the vote to be reconsidered, thereby allowing her to cast a vote for or against the recommended amendment.

was changed to read:

During the meeting, town planner F. Thomas Fudala accused committee members Theresa M. Cook and Charles E. Gasior of committing an ethics violation for casting votes to recommend that certain town boards, including the finance committee and the board of health, remain appointed, as well as voting to make the town clerk an appointed position rather than an elected office. Committee member Mary E. Waygan also reprimanded her peers for not allowing the town clerk vote to be reconsidered, thereby allowing her to cast a vote for or against the recommended amendment. 

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