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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  prohibiting selectmen from serving on other town boards. The attorney general wrote to the town clerk last month that 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."

Michael Kreyssig September 08, 2012 at 05:22 PM
I can't really tell from the wording whether or not the HA is a state or town board. It does seem that the local HA's are direct extensions of the DHED and are possibly intended to be local field offices for a state agency. The town of Chelmsfords' HA call themselves a retained revenue state agency. Are all local HA considered that? http://www.townofchelmsford.us/cha.cfm
deb of see-attleboro September 08, 2012 at 05:34 PM
That's my understanding as well, Michael. Hopefully we will get this cleared up soon.
Carol Bragg September 08, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Jonathan: I think the confusion lies in the fact that the Housing Authority operates under guidelines set out by two regulatory agencies, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), from which it receives funds. But the authority is established as a local option under MGL and the locally-elected board hires the director and administers the program. In a sense, it's a hybrid. The Boston Housing Authority is described as a municipal public agency, not a state agency. I think Gary Sagar was correct in calling for a postponement of the appointment. It's good governance to clarify things before making decisions. The Board of Selectmen should be working toward consensus not win-lose, which typically results in lose-lose for the citizens and taxpayers. Thanks, Gary.
Portsmouth Senior Citizen September 08, 2012 at 07:23 PM
@ EMCEE: I'm back. Sorry took so long to reply but lunch was my 1st priority and it was good. I was wondering when someone would ask that question of me. I could have changed my screen name to avoid all this - but why should I. Am more than happy to answer your curiosity. PortsMOUTH (get it) is a small town. PortsMOUTH Concerned Citizens, Seekonk Concerned Citizens, TV9 on Demand, and most of all I lived in the Seekonk for 38 years, my husband passed away last year and my children took me in - this is how I have become so knowledgeable. I hear, read, and view what is going on in your community. It seems like your community don't want to get involved with your politics (and I don't blame them) but when individuals, like your self and Mr. Rice provide ONLY negative (toxic) one sided information, I feel as an American Citizen it is time for me to freely speak out. Let's just hope Seekonk BOS doesn't become like PortsMOUTH Town Council or should I say PortsMOUTH Concerned Citizen Town Council. Now you know - hope your curiosity is satisfied.
Emcee of Seekonk September 08, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I accept your explanation. Portsmouth is a nice place to live. About the negative one-sided toxic information... many in town share my point of view. They are tired of the micro-managing, the bullying, the gotcha moments, the power grabs, the perceived favoritism, etc. Most citizens do not tune into the meetings at all, they just let things sort themselves out... to the advantage of the BOS. This is small town politics, it repeats itself all over the United States. Attleboro has its disputes and people grumble in favor of one side or another. Seekonk does the same, and I'm sure Portsmouth does too. Nice to meet you.

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