YOU, the People (Dracut)

By: Philippe Thibault

I occasionally like to say, tongue in cheek, that the Constitution of the United States was never ratified in Dracut.

All the rights and privileges afforded by that document cease to have validity and relevance within the town borders. I find it humorous and laugh, until it is true. There is a mindset among some in political office that the public need not concern themselves with the complicated and complex workings of government. The unwashed masses just cannot comprehend the needs of government. Although, it was my understanding that the government should understand the needs of the public.

Take for instance, the latest kerfuffle over the fulfillment of an elected official’s unexpired term due to a resignation. Joe Wilkie, former School Committee Chairman, resigned recently with nine months left to his term.

I am sure the resignation was a difficult decision to make with a brief time left. There is a difficult balance that must be made by people dedicated themselves to public service. We wish Mr. Wilkie the best and thank him for his service to the Town of Dracut and the School Committee. The resignation sets in motion not only a “process,” but Massachusetts Law for the appointment of a replacement member. For Dracut, “we don’t need no stinkin’ laws!”

The law would have the Chair of the affected board notify the Board of Selectman within thirty days of the resignation and the need for appointment. The appointment in this instance would be made by both the affected committee, the School Committee, and the Board of Selectmen. This needs to happen one week after the notice is posted. There is another scenario for Dracut.

The notification is the same for the resignation, at least we start from the same point. The “process” set by the Selectmen Chair is to post a notice of interest for ten days. There is another divergence that is not written but imposed by Alison Genest, Chair of the Board of Selectmen. She wishes to have the School Committee provide only a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen for the appointment. A recommendation much like in other instances, has been ignored by the Troika, Genest, DiRocco, and Kopcinski, holding power. The appointment is scheduled for the next Board of Selectmen meeting. I hope the School Committee pushes back and demands their rightful place to vote on the appointment. There is also the concern that the names of the potential appointees will not be made public. A secret public official if you may.

Why should Alison Genest stop there?

She has inserted herself into every facet of government in Dracut under the guise of being Selectmen Board Chair. She created an ad hoc committee and made herself chair while being and an abutter to the property the ad hoc committee was overseeing.

Alison Genest removed a competent member of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee and inserted herself; devoid of any zoning or planning experience. She has cast a pall of dread over many Town boards, commissions, and employees. She will not be deterred, and there is still more.

The Town Charter was crafted by a Town Charter Commission and adopted in 1985 at the Annual Town Meeting. There were eleven members of the public elected to the office of Charter Commisssion. There were some sweeping changes: a Town Manager, an appointed Planning Board, and the creation of a Permanent Building Committee to name but a few.

The Town Charter called for a review at ten-year intervals. The first review was in 2005, only twenty years behind schedule. There were no significant changes made, I suspect, because no one desired an in-depth review. The next review was made in 2015 by the Board of Selectmen.

The most notable change made was for the qualifications required to be appointed Town Manager. The qualifications were diminished, and standards lowered. Another Charter review is being discussed by the Board of Selectmen, and Alison Genest does not want your involvement.

The Town of Dracut’s “constitution” will not be decided by the consent of the governed. Department Heads are initially reviewing the Charter. There has been some debate as to bringing in a consultant, the Collins Center from Boston, to help shepherd the Selectmen through the process for compliance with the State of Massachusetts laws and regulations.

The Collins Center assisted in the search for a replacement Town Manager when Former Manager Duggan resigned. You can imagine who did not like independent thought then and will not tolerate it now. Alison Genest gesturing to her laptop at a public meeting said, “we don’t need a consultant, we have these.” What a world we live in, when a thirty-minute Google search is presumed to be the equivalent of thirty years of experience. It was said at the Selectmen meeting that after the Department Heads, Town Staff and the Selectmen made their review the townspeople would be “permitted to make comments.”

Hopefully, Selectmen Archinski or Santiago-Hutchings will be making a motion to create an elected Charter Commission for the review. They both have faith in the citizenry of Dracut to govern themselves and determine how they wish to be governed, unlike Chair Alison Genest. Imagine Alison Genest writing the Constitution of the United States these days. “You the People….” ◊