Substance abuse program money gets a second vote
By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — Intentions were questioned, definitions were debated, and amendments were offered in an acrimonious discussion related to a proposed substance abuse program.
During Monday night’s Town Council meeting, councilors sparred over the language surrounding an agenda item calling for a vote to “allocate the previously appropriated FY18 Capital Funds of $25,000 as outline [sic] on page 34 of the Town of Southbridge Substance Abuse Plan.” The funds had been first appropriated during a June 19, 2017 meeting. That vote, which passed unanimously, was to “appropriate the sum of $25,000 from Free Cash for Anti-Drug Education to educate the community against drug use.”
Battle lines were drawn as Chairwoman Denise Clemence said the wording was “fiscally prudent,” while some others argued it was designed to restrict the town manager’s ability to adjust figures based on estimates and fluctuating needs. Opponents of the original phrasing of the agenda item also insisted the funds had previously been appropriated, negating the need for a vote to allocate the money again.
Councilor Rick Nash charged “the politics of this is just ridiculous.” He asserted the June 2017 meeting of the Town Council included a “quite clear” affirmative vote to appropriate $25,000 for the proposed plan, and he suggested no additional votes were necessary to proceed.
Councilor Esteban Carrasco Jr. concurred.
“This has already been allocated. This has already been appropriated,” he said. “We’re getting involved in things that we shouldn’t.”
Councilor Marc DiPietro suggested failing to vote to allocate the funds as outlined specifically within the proposed plan could result a “comical” hypothetical scenario in which Town Manager Ron San Angelo could utilize the $25,000 to take some individuals to Hawaii for a drug abuse seminar. He later suggested the town manager ought to embrace more restrictive wording for his own protection and due to the complexities of “poor Ron sitting in his office” and fighting the war on drugs. At the June 2017 meeting, DiPietro questioned “where is the money going specifically” while also advocating for the funding to provide the town manager with “a warchest to work with.”
Councilor Kristen Auclair quickly bristled and insisted her peers refrain from “politicizing” the town manager’s actions. “We pay our Town Manager to do his job and he has taken it upon himself to put together this advisory committee,” Auclair said. “Right now I don’t think it behooves the council to start micromanaging something that is working.”
She added: “He’s doing his job and he’s doing it very well in my opinion.”
San Angelo said his concern was “being tied to” specific financial figures that were still estimates that could change. He also left aside $3,100 for the purpose of covering overages and perhaps fund additional substance abuse initiatives as needed.
Clemence said while she was “pleased” with a “good plan” to combat the opioid epidemic, the motion’s phrasing was in place to be “fiscally responsible.” She later noted that an incomplete agenda had been provided her for approval while she was out of town.
Nash said the substance abuse plan was completed in February, but had not been brought forth for subcommittee review until he took it upon himself to do so with the Education and Human Services subcommittee, of which he serves as chairman.
“This money was allocated … already allocated according to this document,” Nash later charged. “I’m tired of seeing the town manager and other department heads subsequently being micromanaged.” Nash suggested Clemence and Vice Chairman Gus Steeves had been engaging in micromanagement, a charge that Clemence quickly admonished before chastising him for “personal attacks.”
Councilors debated word choices before Auclair offered an amendment to the agenda item, rephrasing it to read: “Vote to support the Town Manager’s Substance Abuse Committee and their substance abuse plan, not to exceed $25,000.” The proposed amendment was seconded by Carrasco and, after some discussion and debate, was unanimously approved by the Town Council. The amended motion also passed unanimously.