Letter to the Editor: Are Town Volunteer Committee Members Being Targeted and Removed?

Submitted by Joe Piantedosi

On Thursday July 13th two long serving members of our Finance Committee (Stephen Steele & Erica Liu) were interviewed for their re-appointments to this committee by the Town Moderator Mark Seigenthaler, Select Board Chair Bopha Malone and Finance Committee Chair Ben Thomas. No sitting member of the Finance Committee member over the past 40 years has ever been interviewed for re-appointment. Based on the petty and somewhat insulting questions they were asked, the purpose of the interview appeared to be to find reasons to remove them.

They were questioned about their personal feelings and unfounded accusations were made, mostly by Mark Seigenthaler. It appears they are making some people uncomfortable by asking too many sensitive questions about the budget. Having watched many Finance Committee meetings over the past two years, I remember that one of them questioned the huge pay raises that the former Town Manager gave to a few of her staff members, including Mr. Seigenthaler’s (assistant town manager) daughter.

Based on my observations, both of these members were always well prepared when they attended these meetings and asked excellent questions.  Fincom’s job is to be an independent entity that asks tough questions — not a rubber stamp for whatever the Select Board and others want. Stephen and Erica have done their jobs well and do not deserve this shabby treatment.

Due to resignations, there are four newer members of this committee and it’s crucial that long serving and skilled members like Erica and Stephen are reappointed. No vote was taken, likely due to the crowd of over 40 people in attendance who were strongly opposed to their treatment. The meeting was continued to July 27th at 7 pm [Editor’s Note: The meeting will be Tuesday, July 25 at 7 pm] in the Town Hall. I urge every resident to attend.

This is not the first incident of removing people who have had different viewpoints and asked sensitive questions. Several years ago, Jim Shea former Citizen of the Year (now deceased) was not re-appointed to the Community Media Committee after decades of service, and more recently Bill Moonan to the Historic District Commission that he served on for decades. Also, on Monday night July 10th Alice Sun was not reappointed to the Bedford Housing Partnership Committee when no Select Board member would second the motion to re-appoint her even after the Board’s liaison to the Committee strongly endorsed her.

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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July 25, 2023 2:28 pm

The only issue that concerns many people is that the treatment of Erica Liu and Stephen Steele is inconsistent with the way the Reappointing Authority has handled all other reappointments in the past. Since their answers to Mr. Thomas, Ms. Malone, and even Mr. Siegenthaler produced nothing objectionable, their treatment seems arbitrary and capricious — or worse.

Chloe
July 25, 2023 12:49 pm

I am just wondering why this interview happened when they have the abilities and willingness to server the town the best? Because of their different perspectives which I think it’s very important to every committee ? What have changed in Bedford?

Catherine Van Praagh
July 23, 2023 12:13 pm

I have never seen or been a part of an organization that did not benefit from some form of term limit or review, whether hired, elected or appointed. It is far too easy to fall into the habit of having the same people do the same things year after year, which is both lazy and unhealthy for an organization. I think the more important questions are, how do we improve leadership development within the town so we have a larger pool of talent to draw from and how do we help ensure that the assessment of town volunteers, officials and staff is both rigorous and collegial?

Timothy Orlean Bennett
July 18, 2023 8:57 pm

No vote was taken because they are not an elected position, but rather appointed by the Select Board Chair, FinCon Chair, and Town Moderator who as delegates of the town may act in its interests, rather than those of the 40 people there.
I am glad that those endowed by our laws with the power of appointment to this volunteer position chose to have a session like this to offer transparency rather than making decisions behind closed doors.
This reapportionment committee’s job is to be an independent entity that asks tough questions — not a rubber stamp for whoever holds the position.

July 19, 2023 2:01 pm

The reason for the strong outcry is that this not being conducted in an independent manner. As Mr. Piantedosi said at the start, no FinCom reappointment interview have been held over the past 40 years.

It is unclear if the unanimous vote that is required during FinCom appointments extends to reappointments. In either case, according to the information above, Mr. Siegenthaler should recuse himself from this matter. For whatever reason, he has demonstrated intense partiality.

The Select Board Handbook and the Handbook for Appointed Board and Committee Members both decree that: “Once appointed, Committees must be free to act on their own without interference.” If they cannot point to gross misconduct or incompetence that is apparent to everyone, officials have no legitimate grounds to remove someone that former Select Board members and Appointing authorities installed.

That is especially true of those serving for many years. In the case of Alice Sun, after the liaison, Shawn Hanegan, endorsed her fitness and made a motion to reappoint. It was a slap in his face as well as hers.

Nancy Wolk
July 19, 2023 4:29 pm

Margaret,

It is not a slap in anyone’s face to ask tough questions. These people are not being removed. There are questions about how their past conduct has affected the town and is this in the best interest of the committee and town.

People aren’t appointed for life. This is the only authority over who is on the volunteer boards. It’s reasonable to ask if Ficom members understand where money is coming from.

Mr. Siegenthaler has no reason to recuse himself. He’s done nothing wrong. This “I’m not happy so it must be a conspiracy” is getting really out of hand.

July 21, 2023 2:00 am
Reply to  Nancy Wolk

Nancy,
 
When a Select Board Committee Liaison strongly vouches for someone, makes a motion to reappoint her, and then no one seconds it, that is hardly a vote of confidence in his judgment. Did you watch the video? Shawn Hanegan certainly looked as if he had been slapped.
 
As for the new FinCom Reappointing standard: If it’s okay to ask tough questions of people who are only on the hot seat because they may sometimes have asked tough questions, why are they facing removal? I thought they were both impressive, but if they showed frustration at suddenly being held to a different standard than anyone else on that committee has ever been held to, who can blame them?

Mr. Siegenthaler should recuse himself because he apparently has some sort of personal reason for badgering them. Why else did he sit through hours of videos? Looking for what? And even after spending all that time, he failed to make it remotely clear why anyone would think that two veteran FinCom members who have served the people of Bedford faithfully and diligently for at least 20 combined years — and between them have been reappointed 7 or 8 times — are suddenly no longer fit to serve.

Timothy Orlean Bennett
July 20, 2023 8:46 pm

It is a gross characterization to describe declining to reappoint someone as a removal. In the same way, it feels disingenuous to me to use the language “once appointed” when the question at hand is whether or not they are appointed in the first place (regardless of whether they have held the position in the past).

Chris Gittins
July 22, 2023 10:05 am

Appointments are for three years. From Section 6-1 of the Town Charter: “The Finance Committee shall consist of nine members who shall serve for three-year terms.”

Timothy Orlean Bennett
July 22, 2023 8:33 pm
Reply to  Chris Gittins

In this case I was unclear. The town charter does say that they serve for three year terms, but in this case I was drawing a distinction between removing a member of the board vs. appointing someone to a new term. Reappoint would have been a better word to use, but it made sense to compare the other commenter’s point about treatment of a FinCom member “once appointed” when the issue at hand is an appointment for an entirely new term than the one they are serving.

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