The Duxbury Select Board is changing its media protocol after several unfavorable headlines regarding the board appeared in Waterbury’s local paper, the Waterbury Record. The most recent headlines were “Budget trouble facing Duxbury,” “Payroll cards raise questions about workload in Duxbury” and “Duxbury budget picture looking even more bleak.”
“People like to have stuff in the newspaper. We want the public to know what’s going on, but I think in some cases, we need to be really sure of what we’re talking about. Lately, there’ve been a few times when Jonathan (the Duxbury Select Board assistant), spoke when he shouldn’t have. It should’ve been us,” said select board chair Bob Magee at the Duxbury board meeting on Monday, February 10.
At this meeting, the board agreed that it would no longer answer questions from the press but instead would direct journalists to the meeting audio files posted online or to other town spokespeople, like the town clerk or the town treasurer. “If it has anything to do with the treasurer or money, it should go to the treasurer. Governmental stuff should be going to Maureen (the town clerk). As far as the select board, I think it should be based on the audio and the minutes that we take at the select board meetings,” said Magee.
I’LL PASS THE BUCK
The other board members agreed: With audio files of select board meetings available online, the board should not have to answer questions from the press. “I’ll tell you what my protocol is gonna be from now on,” said Jerry McMahan, select board member. “I’m not even going to return phone calls. I’ll send (Bob) an email or a phone call saying, ‘Mike from Waterbury Record or whoever wants to know about this.’ I’ll pass the buck to you,” said McMahan.
Kevin Garcia, select board member, spoke next, sharing his thoughts on this new no-press-questions-answered media policy. “Bottom line is, anything I have to say about any topic is going to be sitting on the audio. Anything that’s asked of me outside of that will be opinion. And trust me, no one wants my opinion.”
DON’T HAVE TIME
“Dan?” Magee asked, turning to select board member Dan Schillhammer for his thoughts.
“That’s why we have the audio,” said Schillhammer. “I just don’t have time. I’m working my butt off. And most everything that goes on is on the audio. There should be time to review that and go from there.”
Select board member Mari Pratt was the last to weigh in with an opinion on the new policy. “Doesn’t matter to me one way or the other because if I don’t want to say something, I don’t,” said Pratt.
Just as the board prepared to move on to the next topic, Mike Verillo, a Waterbury Record reporter present at the meeting, spoke up to express the challenges he’d already faced trying to communicate with board members. “I understand that you want the media to speak to whoever is most informed about the subject I’m writing about or asking questions about,” he started, pointing out that in his last Duxbury story about the select board assistant’s time cards, he believed that the select board members were the proper people to address, since they have the responsibility of reviewing and signing off on time cards.
“I’ve called you many times,” Verillo said to Magee, “but I’ve stopped calling you since you don’t respond to my calls. I am just asking right now: If I’m not supposed to call you for anything, what responsibilities do you have? I’m supposed to call you about things that involve the select board, correct? Are you’re just not going to comment on anything that happens here in Duxbury?”
“Well I don’t know why you can’t go online and turn the audio on and listen to it. If you’re here or listening to what’s going on. To me, that’s what was discussed. There’s really not much more we can do to discuss,” Magee responded.
Verillo then accused the board of equivocating on its media policy parameters. “From what I’m hearing, you guys are basically saying you don’t want to talk to media or clarify anything aside from what’s in your minutes. And if that’s the case, that’s fine. I just want to clarify what the policy actually is, because it seems a little ambiguous,” said Verillo.
IT’S MY JOB
“It’s my job,” Verillo continued, “as a member of the press, to ask you questions and clarify things, to make that audio make sense for people that read the newspaper. That is my job. If you don’t want to comment, you don’t have to comment. But I’m going to keep calling you and asking for comments on things that I am writing about. That is what I do. I’m just trying to get a clear policy here so we can continue to interact in a respectable manner.”
Board member McMahan said that the select board did not want to “stonewall” the press all the time. “But with this specific matter of the time sheets, I’m not sure that should be public information,” said McMahan.
In Verillo’s time-card story, he had written about inconsistencies on the Duxbury Select Board assistant’s timecard. For example, the assistant logged one and a half hours of work for what was, in reality, only a 13-minute phone call. This incident was published in the Waterbury Record, even after board members had declined to speak to Verillo on the subject.
DAMNED IF YOU DO
“Well where did he get this information? He had to get it from somewhere,” asked Dave Patterson, a member of the public present at the meeting.
Pratt explained to Patterson that all members of the public have access to the select board time sheets, and that Verillo had gone out on his own and read them. “He had questions prior to the board ever meeting to talk about it,” she said.
“He’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. He’s just trying to do his job,” said Patterson.
“Right,” said Pratt. “But he had a conversation with me, and when he asked a specific question that I knew and could not answer because I am a member of this board I said, ‘There’s nothing I can discuss with you at this time.’ And he printed that.”
“But did he print anything that wasn’t said?” asked Patterson.
“Nope, he did not,” said Pratt. At this point, Patterson leaned forward to face the reporter and put both thumbs up in the air. “Good job,” he said.