Andover government and town workers have been taking black eyes for the past month. But some of these high profile bruises have been self-inflicted wounds, not low blows. We hope they force town government leaders and employees to reconsider their approach and change their actions, and not come out swinging blindly to defend the way things have been.
First there was the case of Cynthia Vaughn, a former Andover water treatment worker who admitted in June to operating a side business on town time, submitting false records and larceny. In court, lawyer John Andrews said Vaughn's direct supervisor, John Pollano, the former plant superintendent, was aware of the side business Vaughn was running. "She had permission from her direct supervisor," Andrews said. "That was the culture." Judge Timothy Feeley agreed, noting Vaughn did not hide her day-to-day activities. He gave her a slap on the wrist, what's called a continuance without a finding, meaning her charges will be dismissed after a 12-month period if she stays out of further trouble.
That an impartial judge looked at the evidence and seems to agree that the theft of taxpayer money is part of the culture, so Vaughn deserves little blame, is an indictment on town government, the town manager and other paid supervisors like Pollano, who has not been charged. Andover still needs to hire a new person to oversee - and set a new culture - at the Department of Public Works and its water-treatment plant headquarters. It's time for some action.
Second, there was the state arbitrator who was "dumbfounded" by the Andover teachers union insistence on Andover High School teachers overseeing duties like hall monitoring rather than teaching an extra course for half a year. This state official, charged with suggesting a reasonable agreement, also said the union did not provide solid evidence to support several of its arguments. She said a small group of high school teachers were holding up a deal sought by teachers at all levels. Now that the arbitrator has offered her powerful opinion, and a new contract is signed, we hope this relatively small group of high school teachers becomes nothing more than a vocal minority, rather than the leadership team guiding all Andover teachers that it has been in the past.
In the past week, Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia, in taking offense to town watchdog Mary Carbone's questioning the money spent on Town Yard planning, asked, "how come she's the only one who's had problems with us?" Finance Committee member Greg Rigby became the rare - perhaps even unique - person to be denied reappointment to that board. That led to theories in town that he was forced out for asking tough questions, such as one suggested by resident Bob Pokress, whose letter appears online. Andover government needs more people willing to ask tough questions, even if it makes them unpopular with town employees or others on the board. Andover is not Lake Wobegon, the fictional town "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average," and its OK for officials to say so. Until all Andover leaders do a better job of addressing problems publicly, people will continue to assume that those who confront town government will be ostracized.
Andover workers have good-paying jobs with superlative benefits including pensions, sick leave and other add-ons not dreamed of by most middle class workers in the private sector. It's not too much to expect from all employees an honest, full day of work. Town workers and officials should be questioned - in an appropriate manner - to ensure taxpayers' money is being handled appropriately. Such questioning must be seen as welcomed as part of a healthy checks-and-balances system. That should not just be the culture, that should be the requirement.