by Mike Coughlin, former Cohasset Town Manager
In government there is an old practice when you want to kill reform you study it to death. Last week I read with great interest about the proposal by the Interim Town Manager (ITM) to place an article before Town Meeting to study the “legalities of combining water and sewer” for a total of $20K. Aside from the fact that the ITM is telling us that we can not afford to keep the police station open at night– why the need for another study?
In 2004 the Town hired a respected municipal consultant the MMA consulting group (Mark Morse Associates) which advised that Cohasset should move to a combined board with a professional to oversee operations. Likewise, in 2010 an audit by Melanson and Heath made the same recommendation. Why further study– what is the true motive behind the article– seems to me — particularly after the layoff of the Operations Department–is to kill the citizens petition and maintain a status quo that clearly is not working.
If the ITM honestly feels that all proposals that cause for change need study, why doesn’t he apply the principle to his proposal to create a full time Director of Project Management, Planning and Inspection. Further undercutting the ITM’s logic if not sincerity behind the study and its $20K price tag is the fact that the Town is about to undergo a comprehensive Financial Management Review by the Department of Revenue.
Upon my recommendation as Town Manager last fall, which was approved by the Board of Selectmen, a team of professionals from the Division of Local Services will study all aspects of the Cohasset’s administrative and government structure including Water and Sewer at no cost to the town. Last week I checked in with Fredrick Kingley Director of Technical Assistant and Gerry Perry the Director of Accounts for the Division of Local Services. The review will start in late July/early August.
My concern about the ITM’s proposal is that some officials in town want to underwrite their own study because they fear that the Department of Review’s report to the town will likely support the findings of the MMA Report, Melanson and Heath audit and Citizens Petition that a combined Water and Sewer board that is appointed. Anyone who has chatted with Director of Accounts Gerry Perry, knows he is not shy about his position that a combined appointed board is an widely accepted DOR best practice and long overdue in Cohasset.
As to the ITM’s comment in last week’s Mariner that the citizens’ petition is “not ready for prime time”, in that same light- not moving forward will doom Cohasset to a scene akin that to classic Bill Murray comedy “Ground Hog Day” where each day the citizens awake to relive the previous day but in Cohasset this is characterized by a seemingly endless repetition of study and inaction- study and inaction.
Instead, the Town Meeting should debate the citizens’ petition. If approved, the town attorney should draft a Home Rule Petition and submit it to our legislators for action. The legislature process will likely take a long period of months. There will be public hearings at the state house to solicit opinions both pro and con. House and Senate counsel and varied legislative committees that will consider the citizens’ petition will provide plenty of opportunity for further local feedback as well the eventual findings of the DOR Financial Management Review.
There is no need for further delay. Time is now for action. Let’s move forward at Town Meeting.