When Elected Officials Fail
Old Orchard Beach is a small costal town in Southern Maine and it’s being battered this winter by a political storm.
At the heart of it is a central question: How is “truth” determined, by fiat or by rational participatory inquiry?
We have a Town Manager form of government, which means that a qualified individual is hired and charged with operating the business of our Town. We also have an elected Town Council whose job it is to take care of the legislative and financial part of municipal government. These separate functions are supposed to remove the management function from the legislative function and assure smooth sailing.
It hasn’t worked out that way.
Last fall, we had an election in which our Town Council was expanded from five members to seven. Four former members were re-elected and three new members joined the Council. Following the election, a single councilor from the old board and the three new members instantly closed ranks in opposition to the Town Manager.
The so-called “Gang of Four” lost no time in confronting the Town Manager with an ultimatum: Resign or be fired.
Many of us thought it odd that such a decree could be issued without even a meeting of the Council to discuss the reasons behind it and said so at a public meeting at the Town Hall in December of last year. Some wondered how the Council Chair could make such a demand, under the color of governmental authority, without there ever having been such a meeting. Isn’t that a violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act? The questions feel upon deaf ears.
Since then, despite the Town Manager exercising his right to demand a public hearing on any allegations about his job performance; despite cries of “foul” from the public; and despite the repeated efforts of the three remaining Council members to air any complaints in public, the Gang of Four stone-walled every attempt to inform the citizens of our Town of the reasons they want the Town Manager out of their way.
What’s remarkable about this situation is that there have now been recall petitions circulated to remove the Gang of Four and (in quick response) a group called “Taxpayers for Truth” was formed to call for the recall of the three other Council members who, together with the Town Manager and his counsel, John Richardson (a distinguished lawyer and former Speaker of the Mine House of Representatives) were demanding a public forum to air any complaints citing the Manager’s right to address charges under both our Town Charter and Maine law.
Last month, rather than acknowledging the publics right to know, the Town Manager’s rights to due process and their own obligation to comply with Federal, State and local law, the Gang of Four voted in-block to terminate the Town Manager “for no cause.”
Politics is a dirty business. It always has been and it always will be.
Truth is an admirable goal, but it will never be found in naked accusations.
The foundation of justice is the right to be heard; the right to confront accusers and the availability of a forum in which competing sides can have their versions of the truth weighed impartially.
When elected officials conspire to remove the rationale of their actions from public view, democracy (be it on a national, state or municipal level) is in serious trouble.
So, my Town has sent yet another Town Manager packing. Honestly, I don’t know whether he was doing his job properly or not.
And that’s exactly the problem.