Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

WVN #117- Selectmen's Ethics Problem

Expand Messages
  • waylandvoters
    Wayland Voters Network October 23, 2005 Dear Wayland Voter, As you know, WVN doesn t take positions on legislation and candidates. We do take issue with
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      Wayland Voters Network
      October 23, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      As you know, WVN doesn't take positions on legislation and
      candidates. We do take issue with activity that hinders
      transparent, responsive government fostering maximum citizen
      participation. The following represents the opinion of the author,
      Michael Short.


      Maybe the selectmen are in a delirium after belatedly signing an
      agreement with developers of the proposed Town Center
      project. They seem to have forgotten the difference between a
      personal attack and a substantive issue.

      When a Wayland resident asked the state Ethics Commission to
      investigate whether Selectman Bill Whitney had a conflict of
      interest when he negotiated the agreement while his real estate
      development firm was doing business with one of the Town
      Center development companies, the board's response was
      swift, vitriolic and lacking in detail.

      Public officials in such a position typically deny the accusation
      and predict that appropriate governmental processes will deliver
      vindication. Instead, Chairman Michael Tichnor simply attacked
      some nameless political enemy.

      "It is a mean-spirited and misguided effort to influence the
      Special Town Meeting vote on the town center project, a project
      whose approval should be determined on the merits and not on
      the basis of personal attacks," Tichnor wrote in a "To Whom it
      May Concern" statement issued to the press on Oct. 18.
      "...Unfortunately, this tactic of attacking the credibility and
      trustworthiness of elected and appointed officials has been
      used before as a method of defeating certain important
      town-wide initiatives. It simply cannot be tolerated."

      On Oct. 21 that statement was reworked into a letter to the
      Wayland Town Crier with the added assertion that Whitney had
      disclosed the matter at a May 10 public meeting. The names of
      all selectmen except Whitney appeared below. The letter was
      post-dated to Oct. 24. Are we to assume that this is a draft,
      though it isn't so marked, that will be discussed and voted on at
      the Oct. 24 board meeting? (Attend or tune in to the Wayland
      Channel beginning at 7 p.m. Monday and find out for yourself.)

      By what authority did Tichnor issue the Oct. 18 statement?
      (Tichnor was elected to the Board of Selectman, not to act as an
      executive of the board. The chairman is chosen by the board as
      a presiding officer.)

      These are not trivial questions. Do selectmen feel they can
      abandon established procedures when they get excited?

      Whitney says he had been advised by town counsel Mark Lanza
      that there was not even the appearance of conflict of interest.

      If Whitney disclosed the matter at a public meeting on May 10,
      why wasn't it mentioned in the minutes? Why didn't other officials
      and members of the public who were at the meeting notice it?
      Shouldn't somebody have said: "Wait a minute. Bill Whitney may
      be the nicest and most honest guy in town, but this has the
      appearance of a conflict of interest. It ought to be explained."

      Officials routinely declare a potential conflict of interest in a
      statement filed with the town clerk. Sometimes those statements
      are written with the assistance of town counsel. Sometimes they
      are read aloud at a public meeting.

      Whitney said he was unaware that he should inform the town
      clerk. Every elected and appointed official swears an oath to
      uphold the law and is expected to be familiar with applicable

      Why did this escape him, when Tichnor and other elected
      officials filed disclosures on other matters recently?

      During Whitney's time on the board, at least one other member
      more than once recused himself and sat in the audience when
      matters with a hint of conflict came up. Clearly, that sort of
      selectman knows the meaning of the "Caesar's wife" standard of
      being above suspicion.

      Tichnor assumes that the complaint was timed to affect voter
      behavior. That is possible. It is equally possible that the
      information reached the citizen fairly recently and couldn't be
      authenticated (with 26 pages of accompanying documents) any
      earlier. A key real estate transaction identified in the documents
      took place on Sept. 1.

      A nationally known instance bears on matters like this. When
      the Los Angeles Times reported well-documented allegations
      that Arnold Schwartzenegger had groped women, the
      newspaper was condemned for releasing the story shortly
      before the election that made the former movie star the governor
      of California. The newspaper replied: This was the soonest we
      could get accurate information to the the public; knowing what
      we knew, would it be right to tell the people AFTER the election?

      In any case, the detailed Whitney complaint is pertinent to
      concerns aired in recent weeks that the selectmen weren't
      asking enough from the developers. Some of that concern was
      expressed by other selectmen. If there was wide discussion
      about avoiding a sweetheart deal for developers, shouldn't
      voters know as much as possible about the people negotiating
      the deal? Nobody is suggesting that Whitney stood to gain
      personally. But any apparently cozy relationship may raise
      legitimate questions in voters' minds.

      This is not the first time that Wayland officials have attacked their
      constituents when confronted with questions of legality. This is
      getting to be a very bad habit.

      If there is anything that "simply cannot be tolerated," it is public
      officials' cavalier attitude toward the law.

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to
      your friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive
      their own copy, they can send an email to
      waylandvoters@... and they will be signed up for the
      listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up by sending a blank
      email to: waylandvotersnetwork-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.
      Click reply and send after receiving an e-mail confirming the

      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.