Sometimes, initiatives by the city administration are so outrageous that a response is required.
I consider Mayor Paul Heroux a friend, but the unjustified removal of Joe Caponigro as an un-paid volunteer on the city’s Traffic Study Commission is wrong on so many level’s.
Our city charter (The equivalent of the constitution for the City of Attleboro) provides a mechanism for the mayor to remove an appointee in cases of gross misconduct, such as abuse of the office or other unethical behavior. Not only has abuse or unethical behavior not been identified by the mayor, but he has refused to even state the reason.
Volunteers on boards and commissions of the city are proposed by the mayor, and confirmed by the city council. Appointees are sworn in to exercise their duties to the best of their ability, and within the laws of the city, state, and federal government.
Occasionally, a member of a board or commission may take a position different than the mayor, such as a zoning board member voting no on a zoning petition supported by the mayor or a planning board member voting yes on a sub-division that the mayor opposes, or a Traffic Study Commission member opposing a traffic plan supported by the mayor.
There is a good reason why board and commission members are expected to use their best judgement. They provide that independence of opinion as part of making our city work, that may, from time to time be different than an elected mayor, city council, or school committee. It is this independence that is the foundation for good government. That is why we have an elected city council and school committee to provide this independence, known as checks and balances. Boards and commissions are expected to use their best judgement for the same reason.
If a board or commission member can be removed simply because they disagree with the mayor or another elected board, then the implied message to every other board/commission member is to fall in line with what the mayor wants. This compromises the independence of these boards and commissions that exist to provide community input on an important issue. If this is allowed to stand, it damages this balance.
Perhaps this is why the City Charter states that the individual being removed has the right to petition the city council for a hearing with the council and mayor. In this case, Caponigro has requested a hearing. He deserves a fair and impartial hearing. It is up to City Council President Mark Cooper to make sure that happens.
I would also note that if a board/commission member exercises his/her free speech to offer opinions at a duly posted public hearing on matters not related to his/her role on the committee, it should not be a reason for being removed from a committee. I know, for example, that Caponigro did testify in a public hearing on the Green Communities initiative. While my opinion differed from his at the time, that should not be a factor on his right to finish his term. We should not be in the business of hindering free speech either.
There are also safeguards built into the system. If a board/commission member always seems to be on the wrong side of issues supported by the mayor, then when he/she is up for re-appointment, the mayor simply does not send that person’s name for re-appointment. In the case of Joe Caponigro, he was just re-appointed a few months ago; in fact the Traffic Study Commissioners have voted him as their chairman.
On Jan. 21, there will be a hearing in the city council chambers on whether Caponigro should be removed from office.
I would urge the city council to carefully review the evidence presented by the mayor, and only vote for removal if the mayor presents evidence that Caponigro has acted unethically in his position. Any other opinion by the city council sends the wrong message to every appointee in the city.