Politeness, deference to expertise, is sorely needed

It will be tempting for many residents to dismiss former Pelham Town Councillor Gary Accursi’s critical letter to the current council as the pot calling the kettle black. Having been a member of a council notable for its lack of transparency and financial mismanagement, it’s a bit rich for Accursi to imply a lack of transparency and financial mismanagement. But this would miss the larger and more important point.

Through his two terms on council, Accursi demonstrated a keen understanding of how municipal government works—and how it doesn’t work. An informed council is essential to the sensible operation of a municipality.

Accursi is pointing out the obvious. After nearly a year and a half in office, too often some of our councillors are not only ill-informed but arrogantly so. For one, some councillors seem eager to make a name for themselves by asking difficult questions—queries that all too often demonstrate their own lack of knowledge about how the Town operates. Second, some councillors seem to think they were elected to micromanage the workings of staff on a daily basis.

Under the Municipal Act, councillors are responsible for setting broad policy—telling staff what ought to be done, preferably within the bounds of the law and common sense. It is staff’s responsibility, and duty, to figure out how to do it. Constant political micromanaging only frustrates the Town’s employees, wastes their time and our tax dollars, and leaves everyone ill-tempered. Accursi rightly calls this out.

He’s on shakier ground, however, in his critique of CAO David Cribbs, who has perhaps the least enviable job in Pelham. Yes, Cribbs is a lawyer by training and often speaks like one. Yet such indirect, diplomatic tactics are preferable when confronted with what can be startling ignorance, and downright, sneering rudeness. Few among us would tolerate so much petulant pushing of microphone buttons before dropping some candid commentary on the party.

The Voice reached out to each councillor, requesting their comment about Accursi’s take. To their discredit, five councillors didn’t even acknowledge the request. Councillor Mike Ciolfi, on the other hand, who regularly shows up at council meetings well prepared, and whose cordial treatment of staff ought to be a model for certain of his colleagues, did respond, albeit with a brief message saying that he was ill and not up to a substantive reply. As the Voice goes to press, we’ve learned that Ciolfi remains too ill to attend Monday evening’s council meeting even by teleconference.

Let that sink in. The only councillor who had the courtesy to respond was the one who had a legitimate reason not to.

Finally, it’s telling that Mayor Junkin’s reaction to Accursi’s comments is essentially a gracious, “Yeah, that’s about right.” A faction on council has targeted Junkin, seeming to go out of their way to find fault where none exists. Petty grievances threaten to eat up even more oxygen as the term progresses. Accursi is correct, however, in suggesting that the Mayor ought to take firmer control of meetings. Junkin, thankfully, is no authoritarian. But leadership often requires a firm hand, and we encourage our affable Mayor to tighten his procedural grip just a smidgen more.

 

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