A tough season for selectmen

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / August 6, 2009

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When it comes to politics in Wareham, there’s always something happening.

The past year has been particularly eventful. In December, a selectman was arrested for allegedly driving with a suspended license. The following month, the police union took a vote of no confidence against the five-member Board of Selectmen.

This spring, the selectmen requested that the hard drives of all town-owned computers be copied and examined, without saying why. In June, controversial remarks made during a closed-door selectmen’s meeting were recorded and broadcast over the Internet. Police have been called to defuse heated public meetings.

Meanwhile, the town is under financial pressure, and several key positions at Town Hall have yet to be filled. There’s also an effort to recall four of the selectmen.

The tumultuous nature of the political scene in this seaside town was illustrated most recently last Thursday, when a group of residents met in the Wareham Middle School auditorium to discuss their displeasure with the town’s leadership. The meeting was organized by Bob Brady, a former selectman and former Finance Committee member. Initially, the meeting was closed to the press, and the selectmen weren’t invited. That changed when the elected officials showed up.

The selectmen “pretty much barraged their way into the auditorium,’’ said Brady.

Just another evening in Wareham politics.

“We were asked to leave, and we didn’t leave,’’ conceded Bruce D. Sauvageau, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

Sauvageau estimated that 120 people attended the meeting, while others put the number at more than 200.

“We sat there and listened,’’ said Sauvageau. “It was frustrating . . . some of the issues were “factually incorrect, misconstrued, or taken out of context.’’

But the selectmen didn’t speak out.

“We were there to listen,’’ Sauvageau said. “If people have concerns or complaints, or just want to vent about the board, I felt obligated to be there.’’

The critics are waging campaigns on other fronts as well.

Someone recently launched a Facebook page called “Take Back Our Town - A New Day for Wareham.’’ And the website (not affiliated with the Wareham Observer newspaper) is filled with bitter comments and criticism of how the town is run.

Meanwhile, the website was recently launched calling for the removal of Sauvageau and fellow selectmen John P. Cronan, M. Jane Donahue, and Brenda Eckstrom, as well as moderator John T. Donahue. It is unclear who runs the website; no names are listed and the domain name was registered privately.

The website lists dozens of reasons for the recall, asserting that selectmen racked up too many lawsuits and legal bills and violated the open meeting and public records laws, among other things. It also questions the board’s motives for the townwide computer audit, calling it a “witch hunt,’’ and faults the selectmen for removing the previous town administrator and other town employees.

Wareham has had four town administrators since 2007, and the position is open again. The town is also looking to hire someone to run the Planning Department, and the Wareham Free Library needs a director. The director of the local Council on Aging is helping to run the library.

Interim Town Administrator John Sanguinet says the staffing vacancies aren’t a problem; in his opinion, the town’s biggest challenge is its budget.

Employees have had to take 10 furlough days, five DPW workers were laid off, and all nondiscretionary spending has been frozen, said Sanguinet.

Sauvageau contends that much of the criticism is coming from a vocal minority, which he describes as a “local, well-connected small group of people that previously ran the place, and they’re not in power anymore.’’

Sauvageau has lived in town for 12 years. In a place where some families have lived since the 1700s, that isn’t very long.

“I don’t care if you’ve lived here for 10 minutes, 10 years, or 100 years - we’re all equal in this town,’’ he said.

Sauvageau has garnered much attention over the past year - first in December, when he drove home after a selectmen’s meeting and was arrested on a charge of driving with a suspended license. At the recommendation of the district attorney’s office, the case was later dismissed after Sauvageau paid $50 in costs, according to police and the Wareham District Court clerk’s office.

Then in June, information surfaced about Sauvageau facing a $161,670 federal tax lien and $19,834 in state tax liens, which are on file at the Plymouth County Register of Deeds. Asked to comment, he declined, saying it’s an ongoing legal issue.

Brady said he hopes other candidates will step up to run for selectman next spring. He said he isn’t involved in the recall campaign, and isn’t seeking office himself.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at