Too Many Divots on the Golf Course!

By William F. Zachmann for the Duxbury Clipper

The lead article headlined “Special Report: Turf Wars” in last week’s (April 18, 2018) issue of the Duxbury Clipper makes dismal reading for any concerned citizen, voter, and taxpayer of the Town of Duxbury. It is bad enough that we face staggering increases in our real estate taxes over the next few years from a $135 million plus spending spree on major capital projects in the midst of the worst U. S. economic decline since the Great Depression of the 1930. It is even worse, however, that we must also certainly pay substantial legal fees to defend against lawsuits that could wind up requiring us to pay even more, potentially much more, should the Town of Duxbury lose them.

Unfortunately, given the facts as presented in that article, it is clear not only that the suit against Duxbury by Johnson Golf is not at all sure to be decided in the Town’s favor but also that Johnson’s contention that the final procurement document was intentionally changed to enable the rejection of Johnson Golf and the eventual award of the North Hill Golf Course management contract to the newly created, locally owned and operated, Calm Golf LLC is, to say the least, not entirely without merit. It certainly looks like a number of people in Town Government were involved in and supportive of an effort to come up with a final procurement document that would enable a previously determined outcome.

Whether that amounts to an illegal conspiracy, invalidates the procurement process that awarded to contract to Calm Golf LLC, and exposes the Town of Duxbury to costly liabilities owed to Johnson Golf remains to be determined by the court in the trial currently scheduled to begin on October 1, 2012. However, merely that Johnson Golf has sufficient ground to bring the matter to trial is sufficient basis to conclude that the handling of this matter by Town officials has left much to be desired.

Despite the obvious embarrassment of the factual inaccuracy of Town Counsel Robert Troy’s January 27, 2009 to Middlesex Superior Court Judge Herman Smith, incorrectly attributing the inclusion of the phrase “or comparable business enterprise” to a “consultant”, it would be at best a mistaken over-simplification to make Troy the scapegoat of the North Hill contract saga.  The email trail leaves little room to doubt that the initiative to alter the procurement did not originate with him and that it was at least not opposed and perhaps facilitated by a number of people in Town Government who were at least aware of the process by having been included in the email distributions along the way.

At this point, the first priority for Duxbury is to defend against the Johnson Golf law suit, hopefully to prevail or, failing that, to minimize the costs in legal fees and potential awards against the Town at additional cost to taxpayers. That should not, however, stand in the way of a complete, thorough, independent inquiry, as soon as possible, into the handling of this matter by the Town to determine the facts and develop recommendations about how best to ensure that this unfortunate situation is not repeated.

Kudos to newly elected Selectman David Madigan for his pledge to: “make public all aspects of the case so long as it does not compromise the Town’s position in the lawsuit”. More, however, is needed. We need to know why there should be any aspects of the case that, were they to be made public, would or could potentially compromise the Town’s position! The Board of Selectmen should appoint, now, a temporary committee of impartial citizens with no prior involvement in the matter, with full powers of investigation, in executive session when necessary, to determine the facts and to recommend measures to prevent its recurrence.

The Duxbury Money Machine

By William F. Zachmann for the Duxbury Clipper

Why should we care about transparency in local government? What difference does it make? What’s the big deal if meetings are really open or not? Why does active oversight of the operation of town government and full visibility for all citizens, taxpayers, and voters of the detailed operation of Town Government matter? The answer is simple:  The Duxbury Money Machine.

Generally, when we think of the Town of Duxbury, we think of our neighborhoods, our friends, the beach, the schools, the waterfront and so forth. We do not typically think of it as a big money machine. That may even seem, at first glance, a rather odd way to look at it.

Every government however, at every level, is in fact a money machine that takes in and hands out money. Lots of money! Duxbury’s Money Machine, though modest in scale relative to, say, the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or the government of the United States of America, is nevertheless huge relative to the scale of the average Duxbury household.

Duxbury’s annual operating budget for fiscal year 2013 is $57,023,635, up 3.76% from $54,946,335 in 2012. Nearly four fifths (78.80%) of that is raised via local real estate taxes, 11.74% via local receipts (fees, excise taxes, licenses and permits etc.), 9.13% from state aid, and mere smidge (0.35%) as other available funds (water enterprise fund contributions, pool fund contributions, etc.).

Nearly two thirds of that operating budget (63.22%) is spent on the schools, followed by public safety (police, fire, etc.: 15.64%), the Department of Public Works (8%), general government (5.17%), the Library and recreation (3%), the Water Department (3%), culture/human services, and the Percy Walker Pool (1% each). Salaries and related personnel expenses are the single biggest way in which this money is spent, but purchases of goods and services from outside parties, including contractors and consultants still amount, annually, to many millions of dollars.

This nearly $60 million and growing sum is only, however, a portion of the total working of the Duxbury Money Machine. Recent passage of a long list of capital projects including crematory replacement ($2.66 million), fire station renovation ($3.7 million), a new police station ($6.275 million), and a new combined middle and high school ($126 million) will dramatically increase Duxbury’s debt (and taxes!) over the next few years and will give the Duxbury Money Machine at least another $140-150 million to spend over that period (though it will take over two decades to repay it).

Duxbury’s voters, citizens, and taxpayers have a right to know, in detail, exactly how all this money is spent, who gets it, how they are selected, and what they provide in return. In this computerized age, there is no valid reason why these details should not be available for scrutiny by any interested citizen.

The members of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager have an obligation and a duty to ensure complete transparency for the Duxbury Money Machine. Town Manager Richard MacDonald has done an excellent job steadily increasing and improving the transparency of Duxbury’s Town Government. The Board of Selectmen should actively support and encourage, and certainly not obstruct him, in this effort.

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