Housing Board Appointment Sparks Controversy
The chair of Seekonk's Board of Selectmen fills a vacancy on the state board. A fellow selectman says the appointment could conflict with the Town Charter.
It wasn't easy getting there, but Board of Selectmen Chair Francis Cavaco was appointed to the Seekonk Housing Authority board on Wednesday. One selectman argued the appointment could conflict with the Town Charter, while another said the vacancy should have been better advertised.
The five-member housing board, which oversees the state agency that provides a limited amount of low-rent housing, lost a long-time member last month when he resigned due to personal reasons. Board Chair James Tusino said the selectmen were alerted to the vacancy and Cavaco volunteered to fill the post for the remainder of the term that expires in April. The vacancy was not advertised to the general public.
Selectman Gary Sagar requested a vote on the appointment be postponed to October so the vacancy could be noticed on the town's website. Selectman Dave Parker supported a postponement so that a legal opinion could be obtained on whether Cavaco's appointment would conflict with the Town Charter clause stating "No person shall simultaneously hold more than one elected office." (four housing board members are elected and one is the governor's appointee, the vacancy was for an elected position).
Parker also wanted to wait for the state attorney general's ruling on an article approved at the June Town Meeting prohibiting selectmen from serving on other town boards. The attorney general wrote to the town clerk last month that the office needed more time to research the legality of article, and would make a decision by Sept. 24. That decision may not make a difference on the housing board appointment since the article specifies selectmen cannot serve on other "town" boards, and the housing panel is a state board.
Sagar was unable to convince the other two selectmen (Cavaco and Bob McLintock) to support a postponement, so the motion failed on a 2-2 tie. A vote on Cavaco's appointment was approved with five supporters (the four housing board members and McLintock), Parker voting against, Cavaco abstaining and Sagar voting "present," which he said was different from abstaining.
Prior to the vote, there was some heated discussion among the selectmen and the housing board chair.
"We have somebody on the hook that's actually interested in giving another night to the community," housing board Chair Tusino said. "I'm afraid if we let the person off the hook, we'll be left with no candidates in another month."
McLintock spoke about his opposition to how the selectmen fill vacancies, which is done with public interviews that he says embarrass the candidates and make the selectmen "look like a bunch of buffoons." He said this was the reason why there are several vacancies on local boards.
After McLintock spoke in favor of appointing Cavaco, Parker asked, "So we just ignore Town Meeting?" in reference to the approval of the June article.
McLintock responded, "Town Meeting on this particular item has no bearing until the attorney general rules."
Parker snapped back, "Then why don't we wait?"
Town observers were expecting there to be controversy surrounding the appointment. Emails about the issue have been circulating among local officials and activists for at least a week.
Former Selectman Bill Rice, who authored the warrant prohibiting selectmen from serving on other boards, called the appointment "laughable" in an email addressed to the selectmen on Monday.
"So much for the voters," he wrote. "Are you truly going to try to publicly convince Town Meeting voters that their majority vote preventing selectmen from serving on other boards was meaningless? Where exactly does it end? Why should the board do anything directed by Town Meeting? After all, it's only our form of self-government; selectmen are just implementers. This is laughable."
He continued, "What is the urgency? Same as the [Board of Health], when two selectmen were appointed to an already functioning board. A sad day for people in Seekonk who want to think 'selectman' means something other than petty political hack, self absorbed in their own sense of importance."