Taxpayers Lose in ARA Fiasco
Any city councilor that cows to the public humiliation of being spoken to like they were children by the city solicitor and who believes for one minute that they have no say in this matter should either resign in shame or not run for elected office again.
Let me introduce myself, my name is John Q. Taxpayer and I reside in the city of Attleboro. I am also affectionately known by some city officials as "a funding source" for all the ARA lawsuits.
I attended a public meeting at City Hall Monday evening, the purpose of which was to recap the ARA's latest failed lawsuit. We, the taxpayers, are obligated to pay out $600,000 for this latest lawsuit. And the figure grows larger every day because of a very high interest rate tacked on to this figure.
I found this meeting to be very strange, to say the least. I felt somewhat like Alice in Wonderland. Things grew more and more curious by the minute.
The first thing that happened was that the City Council president thanked us all for attending, but announced that we could not speak—this after city officials had complained that nobody attends their public meetings. I found this turn of events to be most curious, as the council chambers were packed for the first time in maybe years, and we were silenced. Very, very curious.
The city solicitor, Mr. Mangiaratti, then explained that the ARA (AKA the city and taxpayers), for the second time had lost a very large lawsuit regarding the improper firing of two ARA employees. Mr. Mangiaratti was asked where the $600,000 was going to come from. Then the strangest thing happened—Mr. Mangiaratti answered, "I don't know." I found that odd, as everyone else in the room knew, but he didn't.
City Councilor Jeremy Denlea then clarified the answer that everyone but the city solicitor seemed to know—that of course it would be the taxpayers who would pay. Whether the money comes from our city funds, ARA assets, grants or anywhere else—it is all taxpayers' money. Government has NO money or assets, other than what they take from the taxpayers. I grew more curious.
Next, it was explained to us, the silenced taxpayers, that our elected city officials, AKA our city councilors, have absolutely no say in the decision of whether to appeal this lawsuit and seek a third opinion. If we lose, the taxpayers could owe substantially more than the $600,000 we already owe. Our representative form of government is trumped by an all-powerful, answer-to-nobody ARA. The City Council was essentially cut off at the knees. The City Council has been rendered impotent in its duty to represent it constituency. This is what we were told by the city solicitor. Curious-est of all.
Of course, most of this is nonsense. By announcing publically that no elected city official can be part of the decision-making process, all elected officials were shielded should the big bad ARA make the lonely decision to appeal. Actually, it was a very clever maneuver.
However, the reality is this: If Mayor Dumas wants to appeal this lawsuit, we will. If he doesn't, we won't.
We have 11 duly elected city councilors. They were elected to scrutinize every red cent that comes from the taxpayers of this city. Maybe all 11 "outraged" city councilors should head up to the mayor's office and explain that they will not be part of taking any more money from their constituents—many of whom have lost their jobs and homes—to once again bail out a failed ARA. To be told that they have no power in this matter was manipulative, humiliating and politically dishonest. And I, along with every other resident in this city, deserve better.
To their credit, City Councilors Richard Conti, Sara Reynolds, Jonathan Weydt, Jeremy Denlea and Mark Cooper made it very clear that they stand with the taxpayers—no more bailouts from us, the exhausted taxpayers. Their remarks were met by a very dismissive tone by Mr. Mangiaratti.
If our City Council cannot or will not protect us from any more millions of dollars lost to the ARA, and if they can't stand together and say NO to the executive branch, then I would question if we really need to be spending the money to fund a City Council. Maybe we should just hand all the power over to the executive branch of our city government and to the ARA.
As it stands, six of the 11 city councilors need to be constantly reminded that their job is to act as a "check and balance" to the executive branch of government. Didn't Councilor Peter Blais just admonish his colleagues for wanting to scrutinize the city budget, which happens to be the most important function of the City Council? That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
In closing, I would like to say that any city councilor that cows to the public humiliation of being spoken to like they were children by the city solicitor and who believes for one minute that they have no say in this matter should either resign in shame or not run for elected office again.
Roxanne Houghton is a former Attleboro city councilor.