Whitman selectman's Facebook post sparks heated conversation

WHITMAN, Mass. — A Facebook post by Whitman Selectmen Randy Lamattina led to a heated discussion at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Chairman Carl Kowalski said he handed out fiscal year 2019 liaison assignments to board members following their last meeting on July 10.

During his report Tuesday night, Kowalski said he received this email from Lamattina the next day, July 11.

Chairman Kowalski, 
Could you please provide me with documentation that gives the authority of delegation of liaison assignments to the person holding the chair position? If you cannot provide me with such documentation, I’m requesting that a discussion on this matter be placed on our next meeting’s agenda.
Randy Lamattina, Selectmen

Kowalski said he and Lamattina never discussed the reassignments, but he learned of Lamattina’s thoughts when someone forwarded him a Facebook post that Lamattina made on July 13.

According to Kowalski, Lamattina wrote, in part, “following our last meeting I was notified I was no longer liaison to the fire department. I question this decision and I find it troubling in light of the chair’s remarks about privatizing Whitman’s ambulance service.”

A short time later, Lamattina requested a point of order.

“You’re kind of going into a little diatribe. This is why I almost didn’t cut you off sooner because now you’re steering the conversation away from what I wanted to discuss about it and I have an issue with that, but that is my point of order, ” Lamattina said. “Thank you. I hear your point of order, but I’m going to ignore it,” Kowalski replied. “As usual,” Lamattina quipped.

Kowalski took exception to the Facebook remark, along with comments made on the post by Lamattina, Whitman Firefighter Rich MacKinnon and another resident. He said the trio tried to insinuate Lamattina’s new liaison assignment was Kowalski’s first step in privatizing the town’s ambulance service and busting up the unions.

“The idea that I recommended or supported outsourcing the ambulance service is fiction,” Kowalski said, while apologizing to anyone who found his comments during the July 10 meeting confusing. “The idea that I display an anti-union bias is equally absurd.”

Kowalski said he has been a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association [MTA] and National Education Association [NEA] since 1972, except from 1979-1983 when he served as Dean of Academic Affairs at Massasoit Community College and couldn’t belong.

Kowalski served as the board’s fire department liaison for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. He said he assigned the post to Lamattina for the 2018 fiscal year because of his fire service experience. Lamattina is a former Quincy firefighter. Kowalski said he was having surgery last fall and intended to take the position back if he felt strong enough.

“I got strong enough and I took it back,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski cited a number of reasons why he wanted the post of fire department liaison. He said he enjoyed his time working with the fire department during fiscal years 2012 and 2013, his great-uncle served as Whitman’s fire chief in the 1920s and he taught a number of the town’s firefighters while working at Massasoit Community College.

Documentation that states the chair has authority over liaison assignments doesn’t exist. Kowalski said it’s been a longstanding practice.

“Like a lot of other things, we don’t have written policies governing the way the Board of Selectmen, itself, carries itself,” said Kowalski. “We just don’t have it.”

Lamattina fired back.

“I appreciate your sentiments and I’d like to say that I bought into it, but I don’t unfortunately,” Lamattina responded.

Lamattina said Kowalski didn’t just strip him as liaison for the fire department, but also from the Board of Health and Recreation Department posts as well.

“I don’t have an uncle who was in the fire service. I was in the fire service. I know what it’s like to be up on top of a roof. I know what it’s like to hold the line. I know what these guys go through on a daily basis. I also know the management side of it and the struggles they go through,” Lamattina said.

Lamattina said he believes he’s the most qualified board member to serve as the fire department liaison. He added he was shocked Kowalski would assign him the school department liaison post. He noted Kowalski’s resume as MTA member of more than three decades and a former chairman of the school committee.

“I don’t think that’s playing to our strengths and I don’t think that’s giving us the best avenue for success,” Lamattina said.

Lamattina said if he knew Kowalski was going to take the position back following fiscal year 2018, he wouldn’t have invested hours working on fire department negotiations and researching several years of contracts to look into the chief’s upcoming contract.

“To me, nostalgia is great, but there’s some people who aren’t satisfied with how slow we’re moving,” Lamattina said. “The last thing we should we doing is upsetting the balance that we have right now in relationships and how people have learned to work with each of their departments.”

Member Brian Bezanson said this is his 15th year on the board and every year liaison assignments have changed.

“I was under the assumption that it changed for a reason, so as a member of the Board of Selectmen you would be able to have a broader sense of how the town operates because you’d have a year or two of this and a year or two of that and you’d then be well versed in how everything goes,” Bezanson said.

Lamattina said if the shakeup was universal he wouldn’t have had a problem, but not all board members had their assignments changed.

The board did vote to research how selectmen in other towns distribute the liaison assignments and discuss what changes to make at their next meeting, which is scheduled for August 24.