Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chelsea's Moral Compass Needs Adjusting

Today's Kennebec Journal report on Chelsea's ongoing crisis focused on Whitefield contractor Frank Monroe and his own shady history with town contracts.

Monroe has been characterized as a "victim" in the alleged shakedown at the hands of Chelsea Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Carole Swan.

Perhaps he is - in this case. I'll reserve judgment until the investigation is done.

Don't get me wrong...I'm thankful Monroe reported Swan to the authorities and helped bring to light an alleged longstanding pattern of criminal and/or unethical behavior.

But as Kennebec Journal reporter Mechele Cooper and her colleagues chronicled so well, Monroe has a checkered history as a Chelsea contractor.

Reading the sordid Monroe-Swan-Chelsea tale this morning brought to mind the proverb "There is no honor among thieves." Or alleged thieves.

According to former town manager Bob Drisko's recounting, he fired Monroe in 1999 because the contractor charged Chelsea for more sand than was delivered - among other reported misdeeds.

In the current changes against Swan, Monroe turned her in because she allegedly extorted $10,000 from him in kickbacks and attempted to hit him up a third time.

Yet Monroe apparently benefitted from Swan's largesse in the form of a current plowing contract he secured without even bidding on it.

Before that, in October 2006, he received the plowing contract in a unanimous vote by Selectmen Swan, Rick Danforth and Guy Berthiaume, followed by the sanding contract a week later.

These awards were supported by two selectmen - Swan and Danforth - who were on the board when Monroe was fired in 1999. They were aware of his actions and yet still awarded the contracts, citing a lack of bidders and a discussion of past problems.

I've long heard rumors that Carole Swan made life miserable for contractors whose last name did not match her own. Paul Soucy, who lived through the experience, explained this much better than I could.

I understand contractors probably weren't interested in bidding on Chelsea jobs because:
  • They either did not get them or
  • Life was too short to deal with Swan's reported meddling if they did.
Still, where was the due diligence at the time of the 2006 bid awards to reach out to prospective bidders other than Frank Monroe, whose moral compass in past work for the town pointed due south?

And how was it that some of Swan's dealings - now openly criticized even by the town managers who worked with her or those who voted in favor of her motions - were allowed to continue for so long, unchallenged on the large stage needed to enact change long ago?

Chelsea has long had a proverbial "elephant in the room" in the form of Carole Swan - an elephant everyone knew was there but no one asked to leave.

Swan's confessed and alleged actions are reprehensible - selfish acts of a greedy, self-centered individual who reportedly used her power and influence as a club to beat others into submission.

But in spite of all this, Carole Swan did not act alone.

More than her own signature was needed to approve warrants for payment. And others in the community aware of her alleged improprieties - from town office employees to volunteers on various town committees, to the general public - either chose not to fight it or were unsuccessful in their attempts.

By not challenging Swan's reported intimidating or bullying behavior, we, as Chelsea residents, have allowed our community to be tarnished, ridiculed and legally and financially challenged.

In spite of the present problems and those that still lie ahead, we have a window of opportunity to make positive, lasting right the ship and adjust the direction of our town's moral compass.

The upcoming March 29 election will be a good first step.

Where we go from there is up to us as an informed, involved community dedicated to making the right changes for our future.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Soucy was not able to do any work at the time for the town I think due to insurance problems in 2002 and after.