895WVN #643: Symbolic Cass votes aimed at officials
- Apr 9, 2016Dear Wayland Voter,
In the three weeks since a judge threw out the town’s court case against former Athletic Director Stephen Cass, citizens have directed outrage at Wayland officials. They have demanded moral and financial accountability, an apology to Cass, disciplinary action against police and school employees. The citizens have not been answered. And now they are taking symbolic actions.
Also in this newsletter: A relatively quiet start to Annual Town Meeting. (The meeting continues Sunday at 1 p.m. at the High School Field House.)
OFFICIALS UNRESPONSIVE TO CRITICISM ON CASS CASE
Even when told to their faces that they should resign if they refuse to do the right thing about Stephen Cass, selectmen and School Committee members remained impassive and uncommunicative. These officials, who have seldom if ever admitted a mistake, face unprecedented scorn spreading far beyond the town line.
Four respected 50-year residents wrote to the Wayland Town Crier, more in sorrow than in anger, that officials “have taken their eyes off the moral compass.”
This week there were renewed citizen attacks at a School Committee meeting and a new condemnation from a newspaper. Citizens tried to get officials’ attention with apparently unprecedented symbolic votes in the town election and at the first night of Annual Town Meeting.
The April 5 annual town election may have been the first time that a ballot with no contested races made news.
Unsurprisingly, only 9.3% of voters turned out. But, surprisingly, 122 write-in votes went to former selectman George Harris rather than the one candidate for the Board of Selectmen, Louis Jurist. And 118 School Committee votes went to Stephen Cass rather than Kim Reichelt. Some 24% of voters left a blank or wrote in someone other than Jurist; for Reichelt the figure was 21.1% (Twenty-four write-ins were scattered among 11 other uncontested races.)
Reichelt has long been an activist and supporter of establishment positions on school matters.
Jurist was a member of the School Committee when an earlier whistle-blowing athletic director sued the Town. The suit, and Jurist’s role, were kept from the public until the Cass case allowed the MetroWest Daily News to force disclosure.
Call it a protest vote, a symbolic vote, a vote of no-confidence in the listed candidates, an attempt to embarrass the establishment, the quiet campaign made its point.
Official election results:
Some emails encouraging write-ins went to unintended recipients, resulting in last-minute appeals to vote for Jurist and Reichelt, probably driving up their totals a bit. For example, former School Committee member Malcolm Astley issued a blast Tuesday morning saying: “I have been informed there is a write-in campaign in today’s town election. A light turnout could mean a loss for positive politics. Please be sure to consider voting today for Louis Jurist for Selectman and Kim Reichelt for School Committee. Please consider sending out your own email under your own name to your contacts ...”
In his blast, Town Center proponent and former selectman Steve Correia characterized the write-in campaign as an approach “to undermine the customary election process…..Don’t let this happen to our town. I would hope the citizens in our town won’t allow this type of action to be allowed.”
Emails may have raised the specter of the two seats going to “outsiders,” but any chance of that was tiny. Harris almost won a selectman seat a year ago but chose not to compete in 2016. Cass might have been unaware of the symbolic write-ins. He is busy trying to resume a career that Wayland’s actions against him have wrecked.
“Abuse of Power in Wayland”
In a fiery editorial on April 7 headed “Abuse of power in Wayland” the MetroWest Daily News summarized Cass’ predicament:
“Even the nicest small town can be cruel. Tangle with the power structure - or worse, the high school football team - and it can bite back with a vengeance... Cass was the athletic director at Wayland High School last year when he went public with allegations against the school athletic program... Cass immediately became the target of the friends of the popular football coach, along with his current and former players. An investigation by school officials found the school was not breaking civil rights laws, but resulted in new fundraising guidelines and disciplinary actions against one or more coaches.
“If the investigation vindicated Cass, he wasn’t around to enjoy it. Months before, school officials had rewarded his whistle-blowing by refusing to renew his contract...But there’s no excuse for what followed. In October, several Wayland Police officers showed up at Cass’ home with a search warrant, looking for a town-owned computer he had failed to return. It was an old laptop, Cass says, one he’d been told he could keep but that he’d be happy to return if anyone had asked.
“The police handcuffed Cass, arrested him on a charge of felony larceny over $250 - and proudly displayed his mugshot on the department’s Facebook page. The computer wasn’t worth that much, prosecutors later conceded, meaning it didn’t qualify for a felony charge. But the ridiculousness of the arrest became even more clear when the case came to trial. Judge Jennifer Stark heard the prosecution’s case, but didn’t even need to hear witnesses for the defense before directing the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.
“Cass can now move on with his life, though the arrest will surely haunt his job-hunting efforts. He can - and should - sue to recover his legal costs, but recovering his reputation may take years...The officers who arrested Cass, and the chief who supervises them, used the public trust their badges represent to retaliate against an innocent citizen as part of a petty personal feud.”
The Daily News echoed demands voiced by Wayland residents for an accounting, an apology and reprimands or firings in the police department.
You can read the editorial at:
Focus on Police
Much recent citizen criticism has focused on the police. Quoting a statement to WVN in which Chief Robert Irving expressed disappointment at the verdict but praised officers’ work on the case and in court, critics asked, How would he know how they did in court? Though Irving knew the court date three months in advance, he defied a subpoena and was in Florida on vacation the day of the trial.
As trial testimony showed, the arresting officer, Detective Sgt. Jamie Berger, failed to conduct a professional, let alone thorough investigation. He estimated the value of the computer without citing a source for the figure.
During the Thursday morning School Committee meeting, a citizen asked about the No Trespass order that Superintendent Paul Stein had issued to Cass months before to keep him off school property. As WVN reported, this presumably prevents Cass from voting, since his polling place is at a school. Stein said he and the police chief would resolve the “misunderstanding.” Cass was seen voting on Tuesday. Stein agreed to ensure Cass would be able to attend Town Meeting at the High School.
At the School Committee meeting Chief Irving issued a statement absolving the school administration from any responsibility for the Cass arrest. Noting that citizens had demanded the firing of school employees, Irving said, “The decision to file charges was made by the police department...”
School Committee Statement?
When the Committee reconvened its meeting early Thursday evening, nearly a half hour of wrangling was devoted to whether the Committee would issue a statement about Cass at Town Meeting. Members said they were eager to make a statement but ultimately agreed that to discuss specific language could expose the Committee to litigation and therefore an executive (closed) session would be needed.
Member Kathie Steinberg indicated that the statement would fully support all school employees involved in the case.
Donna Bouchard, whose term expires after Town meeting, said an executive session without proper notice and explanation of purpose might violate the Open Meeting Law. The Committee has violated 14 times in recent years, probably exceeding any school committee in the state, and been fined once.
Chair Ellen Grieco maintained that the session should proceed because town counsel advised that it was proper. The discussion broke down with Bouchard standing firm for checking for legality with the Attorney General and some members blaming her for the delay. The closed discussion was then scheduled for Tuesday before a Town Meeting session.
Though some members expressed frustration at the delay, there is no record that the Committee had scheduled discussion on a Cass statement between the March 17 verdict and April 7.
Many citizens have maintained from the beginning that it was a huge mistake for Superintendent Stein to involve the police in a matter that would normally be handled by a phone call and if necessary a demand letter.
See WayCAM April 7 School Committee recording.
Another Symbolic Vote
At 7:30 p.m. Annual Town Meeting began. By the time the session ended a few minutes short of three hours, Moderator Dennis Berry said he was surprised at the voters’ speed and efficiency. The most important matter taken up was Article 8, the omnibus operating and capital budgets.
As it turned out, there were motions for small changes, errata disclosures, detailed financial questions, but apparent consensus about the totals. An opportunity is always given for a voter to speak against the overall recommendation of the Finance Committee. Resident Margo Melnicove took that opportunity to say:
“I rise in opposition to the Omnibus Budget, and I intend to vote No on Article 8 to protest the failure of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee to hold anyone accountable for the injustice and humiliation suffered by former athletic director Stephen Cass, whose arrest last October on a wrongful charge of felony larceny severely – perhaps irreparably – damaged his reputation and livelihood, and embarrassed the town. There have been calls for reprimands and firings. Residents have also asked for an apology to Mr. Cass and the entire town…all to no avail... I hope you will join me in voting No on Article 8.”
The vote on the operating budget was 170-90. Considering that there was no expressed opposition to the $79.23 million total, many of the 34.6% who voted No were clearly following Melnicove’s lead.
Later, when the $8.974 million capital budget was voted, the result was 173-39. Capital spending requires a two-thirds majority, making a symbolic No vote risky.
Other Town Meeting Results
Before the budget votes, Town meeting took up relatively routine matters Articles 5, 6 and 7 dealt with recreation financial management actions having no obvious taxpayer effects.
The Recreation Commission, which supports a variety of activities with fees, has been seeking ways to get around state law that restricts expenditures to 1% of certified taxation annually. (Don’t ask why.) The Massachusetts Legislature is expected to change the law, but in the meantime Wayland voters established a revolving fund for the town beach and a recreation stabilization fund, then voted to “Adopt Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 44, Section 53 E 1/2 Revolving Accounts” as required by the state.
The motion as written by the FinCom called for shunting fees into the general fund. Commission Chairman Brud Wright introduced a motion under which Rec would continue to handle the money.
Selectmen Chair Cherry Karlson argued that if the amendment passed, the Commission wouldn’t be able to pay its bills. Wright responded, “We won’t go over the spending cap.” Voters agreed with Wright’s amendment, 130-129. (Yes, electronic voting was in operation.)
The article passed, 209-46.
The Article 8 omnibus budget is estimated to raise the average tax bill from $11,730 to $12,675, an 8.05% increase from the previous fiscal year. That doesn‘t include any additional spending that might be authorized in the remaining 29 articles.
The FinCom was unable to say how much the average tax bill would increase if all the new capital project spending is approved at this Town Meeting. The FinCom acknowledges that the Five-Year Capital Plan in its Report on page 13 in the warrant was not discussed with departments nor approved by the committee. The proposed senior/community center (Article 21) is not shown under Facilities in that draft plan.
The town’s debt schedule has not been made available to residents.
Town Meeting resumes at 1 p.m. on Sunday April 10 with Article 9. Upcoming topics include a gift of conservation land, intersection safety improvements, library project land transfers, senior center/community center project, protection of Mainstone Farm, and Glezen Lane traffic controls. This year’s recipient of the Lydia Maria Child award will be announced. Petitioners propose procedural changes: restoring later town meeting start date, clarifying petitioner access to town counsel and reducing town meeting speaking time.
The latest revisions to the wording of motions dated April 8 (Friday) are posted on the town website.
There were a few instances at Thursday’s Town Meeting session when the wording of a motion did not match what was projected on the screen, prompting the image to be removed.
The recording of the first session of Town Meeting is available at WayCAM.
-- Michael Short
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