WINCHESTER – Troubled by what he called a “lack of transparency,” newest Select Board member Rich Mucci made a motion prior to Town Meeting on Monday night to reorganize, basically removing chair Susan Verdicchio and vice-chair Mariano Goluboff from their leadership positions.
While Verdicchio and Goluboff seemed surprised by this move, Mucci said he asked the chair to place it on the agenda because he believed the change needed to happen right away. Verdicchio put the item on last night’s agenda instead, as she felt the situation needed the proper time for discussion and Monday night’s meeting only started 30 minutes prior to Town Meeting.
Mucci flat out said some members were hiding information from him and the board “lost perspective.” He said the board didn’t strive to include everyone so each member could make an “informed vote.”
He called the board dysfunctional and said the climate was paralyzing it. As a new member, he said he had a “fresh perspective.” Mucci then suggested he should lead the board with member Amy Shapiro as vice-chair.
Mucci said he asked for information from both town counsel and Verdicchio to help get him “up to speed,” but neither reportedly gave him this information. His accusations clearly blindsided member Goluboff who asked for specific incidences, which Mucci could not provide (except to say that some of them he couldn’t speak to in public session and others Verdicchio wouldn’t want him to speak on).
He called Mucci’s language divisive and Trump-like, by suggesting only he (Mucci) could fix things, though didn’t go so far as to compare Mucci and Trump.
Select Board member and former chair Michael Bettencourt then supported Mucci’s motion, somewhat surprisingly, as he not only seconded the motion for Verdicchio as chair, he also nominated Goluboff to become the new vice-chair only six weeks ago.
Select Board member Amy Shapiro, originally nominated as vice-chair six weeks ago, said she felt “useless” on the board and suggested she lacked certain information “everyone else has.”
“This board has become five different people with different agendas,” she argued, adding the “board has lost its way.”
She said the board needs to do a 180, because its not being effective or making the right decisions. She argued that votes were being decided before they even occurred, suggesting discussions were happening behind-the-scenes.
“I want this to work and address the situations that come up for the town,” she pressed.
She pushed that Mucci had a fresh perspective and could help the board become more transparent. Shapiro acknowledged she felt this way for two years.
“We can’t go on the status quo any longer,” she argued.
Goluboff pushed back, noting the board just reorganized six weeks ago and Veridcchio needs time.
“Why wouldn’t we give that a year,” he said, referring to Verdicchio as the new chair.
Shapiro pointed to Verdicchio’s time as vice-chair serving under Bettencourt. She seemed to suggest the board needed a complete restart.
“We need to do something drastic,” she argued.
Goluboff, a former chair several years ago, said even though he wasn’t in a leadership position last year, he still felt informed. He stated he told Shapiro she could be vice-chair, but she turned it down.
“I’m happy if Rich or Amy want to be vice-chair right now,” he noted.
In her defense, Verdicchio said she attempted to get Mucci all the information he sought, even pointing him to the website for more on the Housing Production Plan or zoning bylaws or even the town’s Master Plan. She said she wished Mucci has been more specific in his requests.
“I have some ideas about ways this could function better,” she remarked.
Town Counsel Mina Markarious, who jumped onto the Zoom call, suggested the Select Board not make any sort of change because the item wasn’t on the agenda. However, Mucci said it was a board matter only and not a public matter. Markarious, though, said it had to do with fair notice and deliberation in public.
“This is not an appropriate legal matter” for right now, Markarious argued.
Mucci pushed back, pointing to language in the Open Meeting Law that says a board can take up a matter if the chair “reasonably” didn’t anticipate it in advance. Town counsel, on the other hand, said that really applies to emergencies (and the board had Open Meeting Law issues in the past, specifically when voting to hire Lisa Wong as the town manager).
Markarious stressed he was merely giving his legal recommendation as town counsel and with 12 years of experience, but noted the board could do what it wanted.
“You all can decide what to do,” he concluded.
Shapiro then asked her board to delay the vote to Wednesday to avoid any potential Open Meeting Law violation. Instead, Mucci and Bettencourt pressed to move the vote right then. Verdicchio, with a motion and a second on the table, asked for a roll call vote.
Goluboff voted against it while Shapiro again pushed to move it to Wednesday causing Bettencourt to then rescinded his motion if and only if the matter was the first item on the agenda. Verdicchio said it would be.
With a couple of days to reflect and some harsh language coming from various residents, the Select Board didn’t completely reorganize. Instead, Goluboff agreed to step down as vice-chair and turn the position over to Shapiro who this time agreed to accept it.
Verdicchio called the meeting to order and seeing many residents waiting to speak on the issue, allowed for 20 minutes of public comment. And what came next can only be referred to as a “talking to” or a “scolding,” speeches an angry parent might deliver to their child.
Heidi DiLeo called for a mediator to help the board work out its issues. She argued there wasn’t enough transparency at times and yet too much at other times. She said the board needed a plan and everyone was responsible.
“It’s too early for reorganization now,” she suggested, but noted how the board is “working against each other.”
Resident Timothy Matthews echoed DiLeo’s comments, adding how “embarrassed” he was watching the video of Monday night’s meeting. He called the behavior exhibited by Mucci and Shapiro unprofessional. He said the board needed to work together in a “collaborative way.”
“Approach the job by being humble,” he said to Mucci, “and learn from those with experience.”
Another resident said she was “deeply disappointed” in the motion to remove Verdicchio and Goluboff and the entire video of the meeting.
“The motion was made without respect for the proper protocols,” she pointed out, adding she found it disturbing to hear Mucci dismiss town counsel’s recommendation that his motion wasn’t in order.
Pointing to the 200 people in the meeting, she said it clearly shows there’s public interest in the matter.
“It’s distracting to think the leadership could be challenged after six weeks. I request that (Mucci) withdraw his motion,” she asked.
The last person allowed to speak, Pamela Cort fell in line with everyone else who called the video of the meeting embarrassing. She called Mucci arrogant for “trying to take control” after just joining the board. She argued there are other ways these issues could be addressed.
“The board has the right to reorganize but at the expense of the public trust,” she remarked.
Verdicchio, the target of Mucci’s motion, defended herself by pointing out she chaired the School Committee and, therefore, has leadership experience to deal with any crises. She admitted the town has financial issues and said she would take a more active role in contract negotiations.
“Some of what happened shouldn’t have happened,” she admitted.
Verdicchio also said the chair and vice-chair positions should rotate more than once a year.
Goluboff, the now former vice-chair, thanked residents for reaching out but acknowledged he felt sadness regarding the divisiveness on the board. He asked his fellow board members not to set a “dangerous” precedent by removing Verdicchio after only six weeks.
“Don’t hold Susan accountable for what happened under the previous chair’s watch,” he asked. “I have full confidence in her.”
Goluboff then admitted he was worried two members wanted to violate the town’s Open Meeting Law, asking them to govern with humility. He then took his own advice by offering to step down and let either Shapiro or Mucci take over as vice-chair.
After Goluboff made a motion to nominate Shapiro as the new vice-chair, Bettencourt offered a second calling it a “good way to move forward.”
He called mediation a necessity, saying that “everyone needs to be a part of the solution.” He called many of the problems his (as he was the previous chair) and pushed for the board to gather in person once again and work out some of these issues.
“We need to suspend our agenda for now and come up with an action plan to continue business for the town,” he proposed.
Shapiro, reading from a prepared statement, called some of her time with the Select Board unpleasant, adding she felt like she hasn’t belonged at times.
“We all have a role, but I didn’t speak up enough or ask enough questions,” she acknowledged. “I want to continue to serve to make the town better.”
Shapiro said she turned down the role of vice-chair initially because she didn’t think she could serve. Now, through reflection, she’s ready to work in the spirit of collaboration.
“What’s needed to move this forwarded?” she wondered, stating she made the motion to have Mucci as chair because he has a “fresh perspective” and she wanted the board to be more transparent.
In that regard of being more transparent, Shapiro admitted the entire ordeal made her uncomfortable.
Mucci, who started the ball rolling with his motion to reorganize, said he appreciated the comments and the phone calls and all the different view points. He called his actions on Monday “out of line.” He said he merely grew frustrated with his time on the board.
“I didn’t think (Verdicchio) had it in her to right the ship,” he said.
There’s room for improvement, he said, while pushing that his comments had nothing to do with Verdicchio’s gender. He did, though, understand how it could look that way. Instead, he said his actions were borne out of conversations with Shapiro.
“I don’t think I’m the smartest person,” he acknowledged, “just that I have a fresh perspective.”
He called into question the lack of transparency regarding some of the questions he asked. He said the board must address certain recommendations and must review the town manager (something Goluboff said they did two years ago and began last year).
“Let’s take a step back and get our house in order,” he pressed.
With that, the board voted in Shapiro in as the new vice-chair.
“Two women leading the board sends a powerful message,” Goluboff stressed.