Rumford, we have a problem.
Or, more precisely, Carlo Puiia has a problem. He is about to start astown manager in Rumford, a place lacking in accountability.
On April 20 — Patriots Day, ironically — selectmen met in secret. At a secret time. In a secret place. For a secret purpose. Selectmen convened a meeting at the Region 9 school in Mexico to conduct interviews for the town manager, including an interview with Puiia. They did so without any notice to the public.
Selectman Frank DiConzo, who orchestrated the manager selection process, never had any “intention to publish the time, date, place or purpose of the interview meeting because of its private nature,” according to outgoing Town Manager Len Greaney.
Too bad Maine’s public access law doesn’t provide for this clandestine procedure.
Interviews with prospective candidates are confidential. But the site and time of the meeting cannot be secret, because more than three selectmen were present, making it a public gathering, at least at the start.
Selectmen were obliged, under Maine law, to provide notice of the April 20 interview meeting, to convene that meeting in public, and then move into executive session to conduct the interviews. They did none of these things, choosing secrecy over transparency.
Worse, selectmen appear to have made the decision to hire Puiia in secret, because Puiia knew the following day the job was his, four days before the public vote named him the new town manager.
Immediately after that vote of April 24, in a typewritten, 197-word prepared statement, Puiia accepted the appointment with gratitude to selectmen for their faith and support. His remarks were heartfelt and welcome, but that preparedness was a raw reminder that his employment resulted from intentional and improper secrecy. Thus begins Puiia’s management under a cloud.
Although Puiia has no prior municipal management experience, he brings considerable skill to the job and certainly knows the people and political maze that is Rumford, which should serve him and residents well. But the process under which he was hired is inexcusable. The lack of notice on the interview meeting is just one example of Rumford’s lax attitude with procedure.
In a series of e-mails, recently obtained by the Sun Journal under a Freedom of Access Act request, selectmen secretly and repeatedly build consensus on issues of public interest and discuss private personnel matters, including an exchange between Greaney and Selectman Mark Belanger about a town employee who, they say, “should be careful what he wishes for” if he wants to keep his job.
In another exchange, Greaney, Belanger and DiConzo discuss the suitability of a citizen for appointment to a town board and, in another, share a snarky comment about two people connected with a local emergency responder being “strange bedfellows.” There are e-mails about an employee’s private medical condition, a reference to a community group as a “motley crew” and accusations of town employee shenanigans and “Gestapo” tactics.
There are unprofessional discussions in these e-mails. They are inappropriate and embarrassing for the authors. This is what Puiia faces.
The people’s business must be conducted in public, not in secret meetings and secret e-mails and, if selectmen won’t do it, Puiia must. This town has turned to a native son to spark their new day. It must dawn with brilliant sunshine, lighting every corner of government and repair the public trust.
We wish him well.
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