Original Essay Title: Summer Reading
Posted June 27, 2021
On May 10th, one of our Town Councilpersons, the designated point person in this matter, first shared with others on our Town Board the then-confidential report by attorney Ronald Mendrick, the consultant whose firm, RM Consulting Solutions LLC, had performed an investigation and compiled a report addressing recent stress points in the relationships among members the Enfield Town Board and the Town’s various officers, as well as with the larger Enfield community.
In early June, with minimal fanfare, we, the Town Board, released the co-called “Mendrick Report.” I urge you read it. Its analysis may not be perfect. But its findings and recommendations may help get Enfield’s governmental house in order; if, that is, you believe change needs to occur.
(On our Town’s website, the report is a bit difficult to find. So let me guide you: From our Home Page, click “Resources” on the menu; then “Legislative Information,” on the sub-menu; then “Report of Investigation.”) A link is here:https://townofenfield.org/7323-2/report-of-investigation/
For reasons grounded in the law and good common sense, we, the members of your Town Board, have agreed not to comment individually—or even, for now, collectively—on the Mendrick Report’s findings or recommendations. Since one of the Report’s goals is to instill collegiality among those populating our Board, I choose not to violate our handshake agreement. I will say only that you should read what our Board has commissioned—and paid for with $10,400 of your tax dollars. (I know, Ouch!)
Please, set aside a few hours. It’s not an easy read. I count 10,877 words on 24, single-spaced pages. Beware, the author often writes in the abstract, avoiding direct reference to particular participants. If you’re looking for a blow-by-blow food fight, you won’t find it. As the cliché goes, Mendrick tends to observe our problems “from the 30,000-foot level.” And full disclosure: I was among the “13 individuals” Mendrick interviewed.
Since I feel ethically bound to practice restraint, I will leave the reporting to others. In a lengthy article posted June 24th in The Ithaca Voice, https://ithacavoice.com/2021/06/independent-report-calls-out-personal-rivalries-gridlock-pettiness-in-enfield-government/reporter Matt Butler summarized the Mendrick Report’s findings and recommendations. Within his reporting, Butler wrote:
“[E]xplicitly detailed in a newly published independent report called for by the Town’s legal counsel, all issues involving personal conflicts between Enfield leadership, board members, staffers and the public, have been linked to a ‘culture of controversy’ in the government overseeing the town of about 3,500 residents. That culture has been marked by ‘raised voices and inappropriate language at meetings and critical assessments by officials of their colleagues, including attribution of nefarious motives for their actions,’ according to the report…. That culture has pushed ‘valued members’ of the government from office, the report alleges….
“The report came after an 18 month period marred by contentious meetings over the explicit inclusion of the Pledge of Allegiance at town meetings, a debate surrounding former supervisor [Beth] McGee’s resignation and succession plan, plus more internal anger over proposals to make the Highway Superintendent and Town Clerk jobs appointed instead of elected (both propositions were defeated in November after spawning criticism that they were a retaliation tactic by McGee against Highway Superintendent Buddy Rollins and Town Clerk Ellen Woods), and in particular the pay and workload of the Town Clerk position.”
I will state only that Butler’s reporting stands accurate on these points. He is also accurate in reporting that in response to his inquiry soliciting my comment, “Lynch said the board had decided that, instead of commenting on their reactions to the report, that they would let the ‘report speak for itself.’” That’s where I left it.
To you, my readers, two questions may arise. I should answer them:
First: Why did we spend (waste?) your tax money on this report?
Trust me, we had good reasons. But they are reasons intertwined with personnel issues and potential litigation; matters which my responsibility to this Town, its financial standing, and its legal interests dictate I not answer.
Second: Why did we, the Town Board, wait so long to release this report?
We, the Town Board, commissioned Ronald Mendrick’s investigation following an executive session held on March 10th. Mendrick commenced his work March 12th and submitted his report May 8th. I received my confidential copy May 10th by email. In my judgment and in the judgment of others, the document contained sensitive personnel information that an attorney might recommend we withhold.
Rather than discuss the report in executive session at our Town Board meeting May 12th, I, for one, urged we postpone discussion. Our May meeting’s agenda was long. And as I wrote to my Board colleagues May 10th:
“It would be unfair to our constituents to leave them waiting mid-meeting while we weighed the report’s contents in private. And if we delayed consideration until meeting’s end, we, too, would again be too tired to consider and discuss it thoughtfully.”
Instead, we held off our executive session until June 1st. Afterward, we resolved unanimously to make the Mendrick Report public pending our legal counsel’s review for possible redactions. Our attorney found nothing we needed to redact. We placed the report online, without redaction, on June 10th or 11th.
One more thought: As they say, “We need to talk.”
On June 2nd, I’d offered my Board colleagues a Resolution to consider. It would have formalized the Mendrick Report’s public release. My colleagues chose not to take me up on my proposed measure. And I thought better than to offer it at our June 9th meeting. But in that draft, I’d proposed that we, our Board:
“accepts, in concept, [the Report’s] overall findings as providing a pathway for the Town, its officers, elected officials, and residents to achieve improved harmony, tranquility, civility, and effective leadership, each achievement serving as a beneficial component toward a more productive municipal governing system….”
I’d further proposed that that we resolve:
“[T]hat the Enfield Town Board regards the Mendrick Report as a conceptual document, as a roadmap toward improved government operational performance, its distinct recommendations not necessarily to be adopted in total, but rather to be individually considered, debated, and decided item by item as this Town Board and the Greater Enfield Community deems appropriate….”
I, as but one member of our Enfield Town Board, believe those words.
The Mendrick Report—a hard read though it is—deserves to be read by every member of our Town of Enfield who stands concerned about our Town’s path forward. Please read it whether you like me or not. Toss aside the portions you think make no sense. Discard the recommendations—I have—that you, like me, regard as having already been settled. Then, let’s talk.
I would like a community meeting this fall, perhaps in September, perhaps at the Enfield School, where we could debate openly and without rancor what Ronald Mendrick found and what he recommended. Is there, indeed, a “culture of controversy” within our Town? And if so, why? Are we truly the “wild western hills” or the “Tabloid Town?” Is there something unique about Enfield? Is our brand of debate healthy for a vibrant democracy? Or is it poisonous?
We, the members of your Town Board, should not prejudge the Report’s findings or bias this debate with our casual, offhand comments. We should stand back and allow you, our constituents, to take center stage. Our Board spent Ten Grand of your money to produce this thing. Let’s ensure as best we can that the funds were well spent.
Toward a Better Democracy,
Addendum; June 28, 2021:
Following the posting of this essay, former Enfield Town Clerk Ellen Woods contacted this writer, alleging that his limited summary of the Mendrick Report did not present the document in an appropriate context in view of the alleged “detrimental” impact it has had upon her. Woods requested that I convey that “the former Clerk feels that there are numerous clear factual errors in the report….” I have duly noted Woods’ concerns.
Former Clerk Woods has also asked me to clarify that I have not formally fact-checked the document or asked others to do so. As noted in the essay, due to ethical considerations, I choose not to comment on the Mendrick Report’s specifics. But as I stated in the essay’s second paragraph, the report’s “analysis may not be perfect.” I urge each person read the document with a critical mind. The Mendrick Report should serve as a launching point for discussion. It does not necessarily reach the final conclusion. / RL