Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happiness Is One Part Perception, And The Other Part Result

If folks aren't happy, then they need to make the changes that will bring the smile back to their faces.

Cripes, that is just how it works.  Happiness doesn't just fall on you hoping it will stick; you have to "earn it".

So, that being said, as with most issues in town that irk the bejeepers out of us, and make us less happy, less time is spent on analyzing, and trying to understand the issue at hand, than is spent on blaming  another for their choice of verbiage, manner actions, and outbursts in relation to those issues.

Hence, we become less happy.  I have one word of support:


The issue at hand is a report about the Fire Chief, and his department.  All the other actions that have been seen, and words that have been spoken by others in relation to the Chief, and the report are not to be ignored, but let's deal with one issue at a time.  Once we are on top of that issue,  and truly understand it, not solve it, we can move on to deal with the other ongoing issue in our town.

Now, let's assume that we understand the Fire Chief situation even though I read in the newspaper that no disciplinary action would be taken against the Chief, and later learned he was to be suspended, with pay, for three days.


Oh, maybe a suspension with pay is not a punishment.  Maybe its a sabbatical.

Ok, lets move on.  We have been dealing with what comes across as one persons attempt at installing  an autocracy here in Sturbridge for several years.  Worse yet, we've tolerated it, and only blustered our dissatisfaction about it.

I read the comments in the Telegram, and here on Thinking Out Loud, and sense that the level of happiness with this ruler is low.

Like, duh.

The behaviors are inappropriate, words are poorly chosen, and actions poor.  Sounds like a politician to me, but not a local one.  Local ones are less caustic for the simple we reason we shop with these folks in local stores, go to the same restaurants, sit beside each other at the cinema, maybe even go to the same church.  Our closeness leaves little room for escape, and most local politicians behaviors are often tweaked to the good side with this in mind.

The key word is "most".

There is a solution to this issue if enough people feel this way: Vote.

Vote for someone else.  Vote for a whole bunch of someone elses and pack that Board with people you feel will not only perform, but perform in a kinder, gentler, more humanistic way.  Then, maybe the happiness quotient will rise in town once more.

See, bitching, and moaning does not change what is.  Writing harsh comments on a blog will not do it, either.  The comments are only the symptom of what is going on.  What can fix things?

Action will.

So, here's the challenge,  find others that share the same opinion, hold a meeting in someones living room, find a candidate or two, and work up a plan to take back that long table on the second floor of the Town Hall, and find happiness again.

In the meantime, someone please tell me if the three day paid leave / sabbatical / suspension / long weekend thing was a disciplinary action or not.  Did I not read the paper correctly?  Was it not reported accurately?  Or, is this more of the same 'ol, same 'ol?

I'm a bit confused, and I'm not happy about that.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Reader Writes

In addition to the comments each post receives, I also get emails.  These emails usually offer more information about a particular situation.  Most always, the writer asks to remain anonymous, but is offering the information to fill in the blanks.  I received one such email this week from a reputable source, and I've posted the email below.  I've also removed any identifying information at the writers request.

I am also very interested in the condition of the fire department and would to suggest to you an interesting piece that was touched on last night but not quantified. The letter that Mr. Creamer referred to from some time ago was from 2007 and outlined the exact issues being addressed here. It was part of an totally ignored exit interview by Jim Malloy and the BOS. They refused to even speak to the person about his concerns and due to the fact that an exit interview is confidential, it was buried. Two week later they were each delivered a letter  ... with most of the same information in it, it became a public document. This was also ignored...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wait For It

Actually, this is a simple process.

Let's put aside all the questions as to who hired the consultant to prepare a report on the Sturbridge Fire Department, and all the other questions as to why, let's just deal with the contents of the report.

For now.

First, we need to go a  bit further, and dismiss the level of experience the consultant may have in preparing reports; we really don't know what his experience is.  What we do know is he has been a fire chief in his town, and a police chief, and that his town of Mendon thinks enough of his experience to allow him to do both.  That alone speaks volumes.  His ability to run a business utilizing his experience is also noteworthy.

Now, lets just look at the report.  Is any of it true?  Yes.  Were there things mentioned in the report that were already being addressed by the department, and the town?  Apparently, yes.  Are there things within the report that need correction?  Yes.

And, finally, were  there things reported that were purposely over zealous examples, or had been explained by the Chief prior to the writing of the report? Was the reports purpose more of "witch hunt", and not a true investigative / corrective endeavor?

At the moment, those questions are subjective.  We can only go by what has been told to us by the Town Administrator, and what has been revealed at public meetings.

So, based on what we have been told, heard, and seen thus far; was the report needed, required, accurate, and most of all, will it lead to positive change?  Or, will it sit in a desk drawer somewhere, and the only action coming from the report will be to support actions made against the Chief?

I don't have a clue, but I feel I am up to speed thus far, and now, like you, just waiting for the next episode.

Corrective Actions, not disciplinary, would be best.  Which direction will the town go will answer those current, unanswerable, subjective questions.

Wait for it.  I'm afraid there is more to come.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

More Puzzled Than Confused

In December of 2012 the GSSC committee met, and decided to hire the outside consultant, Chief Horn, and placed his services under contract at the end of January.


And, we have learned that the grant that was applied for to buy new "turn out gear" for the firefighters was awarded in January 2013, too.  The money came in March.  The obvious missing piece was when was the grant applied for?  Well, before January 2013, and well before that meeting in December, too.  It takes a while for these things to happen.

Now, two of the matters mentioned in the report was the lack of adequate "turn out gear" for the firefighters, and another was the lack of communication in the Fire Department.

OK, now stay with me now.

Why, did the consultant bother to mention the lack of adequate turn out gear in his report, when money had been applied for, approved, and received for it?  When the consultant discussed the matter with our Chief, didn't this come up in the conversation?  Why didn't the consultant know this?

Now, the other matter:  lack of communication.  Seems that there were more people affected by that than just our Chief, and his department.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Excuse Me, I'm A Bit Confused.

I am only following this whole thing as any other resident of Sturbridge is, and the more I read, the more confused I am becoming.

First things first; I have some questions:

  • Who's idea was it to hire a consultant to review the Fire Chief, and his department?

  • Why was the consultant hired?

  • When was the consultant hired?

Simple questions, but knowing the answers to them could help explain some of the back peddling being done now by the town administrator.

What prompted hiring the consultant?  Was there a specific action, or a history of them that needed further documentation, and corroboration?

Who's idea was it?  The TA?  The selectmen?  A joint effort?

Finally, when was this consultant hired?  If they were hired last year, then the inclusion of certain corrective measures mentioned by the TA may not have been in place at the time of the hire, but are only presently being worked on.  If they were hired more recently, while those corrective measures were being implemented, then I see a problem.

Why bring in a third party while the issues were being "fixed"?

In the article posted below, written by James Russell of the Telegram, the TA states that the report has inaccuracies.  An example given is that the report indicated new turn out gear for the firefighters was needed, however a grant was applied for by the Chief, and was awarded in January.  The money came in last month, and the firefighters are currently being fitted for their gear.

This covers a period of at least four months, not including the time before the actual awarding of the grant when the grant was written, and submitted.

This is a huge discrepancy in time.  Was this report just submitted last week, or was it submitted before the grant was applied for, or received?  Why was there no mention of the grant, or the new gear in the report?

Is it me, or is any one else having a hard time with the information, and timeline?

Maybe it's all much ado about nothing.


Suhoski finds holes in report
List of fire chief’s faults has errors


STURBRIDGE —  A consultant’s report that blasts the way Fire Chief Leonard Senecal does his job is not entirely accurate and failed to account for steps under way to fix problems, the town administrator said.

And any talk of discipline against the chief is premature and would not occur until after he meets with selectmen next week, Shaun Suhoski said.

The report cited myriad alleged deficiencies about the chief’s leadership — among them morale problems, out-of-date equipment, unclean areas and poor or nonexistent recordkeeping on some matters.

The consultant, Ernest Horn, is now the acting Mendon town administrator and fire chief and has been the police chief there for years.

Although Sturbridge selectmen are alarmed, and the administrator is concerned about the consultant’s 116-page report, they also are giving Chief Senecal an opportunity to respond at a public meeting next week.

“There are observations that need a little more attention to detail,” Mr. Suhoski said when asked if the consultant’s operational review was accurate.

The fire chief “and I are working on an update, which is to let selectmen know about the progress.”

One area of dispute in the report involves the gear firefighters wear during emergencies.

Chief Horn said in the report that the equipment, known as turnout gear, was outdated — more than 10 years old. He said Sturbridge needs to pay $100,000 to equip the firefighters with proper gear.

But Mr. Suhoski said Chief Senecal had already applied for grant money to properly equip the firefighters.

“This year the Fire Department received an $82,000 grant to replace all the turnout gear,” Mr. Suhoski said. The award was announced in January, the money was received last month and firefighters are being measured and fitted for the new equipment, he said.

“We had a third party peer review that we were all on board with it,” the administrator said. “That tells me we are looking at how to improve operations. I know Lenny’s a bit under the gun now and a lot needs to be done. But after next Tuesday’s public meeting, we will have a balanced picture, through the chief, and then if there are areas of disagreement, they can be weighed out and resolved.”

Mr. Suhoski said Chief Horn is expected at the meeting along with Chief Senecal. The report cost $3,000.

On the matter of possible discipline, Mr. Suhoski said: “I can’t discuss personnel action publicly, but those actions would not be considered prior to the April 16 meeting with the chief.”

Selectmen released the Horn report during a special meeting on Friday. The board had met behind closed doors on April 1.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Apparently, The Problems Have Been Smoldering For Years

I grew up in a small town a little east of Boston.  The group I spent most of my time with from first grade through high school graduation, and beyond were a tight bunch.  We were townies, and all aspired to serve the town, or the public in someway.  A couple of my friends went on to become state troopers, and local police officers.  Others, became firefighters, EMT's, and paramedics.  I became a nurse.  We all seemed to know from an early age that serving the public was the direction we wanted to take.

Each of those friends found that niche, and became very good at what they loved.  One became an instructor at the police academy, another became the Fire Chief in the town I grew up in followed by another member of the group that became the Police Chief in town years later.

They started off as kids with a dream of where they wanted to be, and to give back to the community.  They succeeded immensely.  They succeed, in part, because they had the respect of those around them, developed an excellent knowledge of what their job required, performed extremely well, and they were held accountable.  If they didn't perform, they would have been let go years ago.

That is how it is supposed to work.

So, how come, after 30 years as chief,  an outside consultant was hired to do an investigation of the Sturbridge Fire Chief, and the the Fire Department?  And, after the 166 page report was published, why are people amazed that both the Chief, and the department , are in such poor repair?

It didn't happen over night.  The issues have been ongoing, according to the report, for many years.  So, why hire the consultant now?  Did it finally come to head, and something just had to be done?

Probably, but it was allowed to fester for decades.  It appears that this department head was not held accountable.  This not only reflects poorly on the Chief, and the department, but on those that the Chief answers to.  They are as much at fault for allowing it to happen for so many years.

Small towns are like this.  Those at the helm are uncomfortable disciplining, correcting, or terminating, someone that could very well be an old friend, or neighbor.  So, the behaviors remain unchecked, and we end up where we are today with our fire department.

However the investigation, and ultimate report came about is important, but more important is the fact that someone, or someones, saw a need for it, and addressed it.

Below are some of the of the items listed in the report:

"• Unkempt conditions in the fire station, including trash piled in fire escapes.

• No vehicle maintenance records.

• Controlled substances stored in unlocked file cabinets.

• “Complete breakdown in communications between the chief and the staff.”

• Lack of standardized policies and procedures.

• Unclear chain of command when chief is not present.

• Inadequate training.

• Ineffective scheduling and staffing, including lack of full-time firefighters assigned to weekend shifts.

• The town's rescue boat being used to store old equipment, making it impossible to immediately use the boat in rescue situations." --- Worcester Telegram & Gazette  April 6, 2013

This report is an eye opener.  Look it over.  Click here

What next?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pass The Sugar

I always regarded the word "stupid" as one that we teach our children not to use when they are young knowing full well that  they would learn the appropriate use of the word when they were older.  They may even use it occaisionally.  Many of you feel the same way.  Well, today is one of those times when "stupid" may be more than appropriate to use.   The chairman of the board of selectman wants to place an article on the town meeting warrant requiring all department heads with the Town of Sturbridge to be actual residents of Sturbridge.

Think about that for a moment.  All department heads in the town of Sturbridge are to be residents of the Town of Sturbridge, and if they don't move here, they give up their position.  Department heads of the school system, Highway Department, town hall, Water Department would all have to live in town. 

Why, you may ask?  Because they would have more at stake if they lived here, says the chairman.

"In an effort to enhance the quality of employee performance through greater personal knowledge of and experience with the community's conditions; and, to develop a greater personal stake in the community's progress, while reducing the potential for absences and tardiness; and to ensure the ready availability of trained and critical management personnel in emergencies; and to foster the general economic benefits which result from spending one's salary in the employing community, while sharing associated local tax burdens and creating a greater sense of ownership within the community; the Town of Sturbridge hereby establishes the following residency requirements."

Read that again.

A department head would have a great understanding of the the job they were placed in as the head of their department by living here, says the chairman. 


If one was promoted, or hired, into a departments heads position one would think that the experience, education, and personality were the prime reasons for the hire, not where they parked their car at night.  If one is going to be chronically tardy, or absent for work when they live in East Cowudder,  that won't change when they move to 01566.

Another reason given is for the department heads to be readily available in an emergency.  If they have a car, and the roads are clear, they'll be here if the emergency warrants.  Just call them.  Being in town doesn't mean they will be available in time of an emergency.  All it means is that they will be closer to it.

The final reason given in the above statement is the silliest, and I am almost afraid to take it seriously being so close to April 1st.  I can't help, but think we are all being pranked.

" foster the general economic benefits which result from spending one's salary in the employing community, while sharing associated local tax burdens and creating a greater sense of ownership within the community; the Town of Sturbridge hereby establishes the following residency requirements."

I'm speechless.

No, not really, more dumbfounded.  Is he actually saying that spending the salary the town pays the department heads here in town, and paying local taxes would create a greater sense of ownership within the community?

Yes, that is what he said.  He wants the money the town pays its department heads to be paid toward local taxes, and to be spent in town to foster an economic benefit.  Whose economic benefit, the department heads, or the towns?

So, my working in Boston, and living in Sturbridge, does not allow me to have a greater sense of ownership than I already have for my position, and should be spending my salary, that I am paid by my Boston employer, not in Sturbridge, but in Boston so I can foster a better economic benefit where I am employed.

I feel that the Mad Hatter has taken over the tea party at the Board of Selectmen.

Reducing an infinite pool of qualified individuals for department head positions to just one, or two that may qualify in town is ludicrous.  Taking  up roots and moving to our town to preserve ones job.  No, not in today's real estate market.  Give up ones home, children's schools, neighbors and friends for a job?  I don't think so.


Unless, there is more to this than meets the eye.  Sometimes politics is so opaque we can only wonder what goes on behind closed doors, seldom is it as transparent as the statement, "'Initially, my residency requirement is going to be specific to the town administrator,'" Mr. Creamer said."

Ahhh, and every once in a  rare while, the very reason for all the craziness at the tea party is shared  by none other than the Hatter himself.

Article published Apr 3, 2013

Sturbridge department heads are spinning over residency bylaw proposal


STURBRIDGE _ A proposed bylaw article would force eight current (and all future) department heads to live in town or resign from their positions, if it passes.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Monday, Selectmen Chairman Thomas R. Creamer advised his fellow board members that he wanted to place a "Department Head Residency Requirements' bylaw article on the special town meeting warrant.

The article would amend the town's general bylaws and require all department heads to live in Sturbridge. In terms of penalty, the proposed bylaw states, "Failure to establish such residency within the established time-period shall be deemed to be a resignation from the office held by the department head".

"Initially, my residency requirement is going to be specific to the town administrator," Mr. Creamer said.

Currently, eight of the 10 department heads, including Town Administrator Shaun A. Suhoski and Police Chief Thomas J. Ford III, live outside of Sturbridge.

The remaining town department heads who are out-of-towners are: Town Planner Jean M. Bubon of Palmer, Finance Director Barbara A. Barry of Palmer, Principal Assessor William B. Mitchell of East Brookfield, Conservation Agent Glenn D. Colburn of Monson. Building Inspector Curt J. Meskus of Charlton, and Town Accountant Jean Joel of Barre.

Fire Chief Leonard E. Senecal and Department of Public Works Director Gregory H. Morse are the only two department heads that live in Sturbridge.

"I don't know if there is a shared sense of sacrifice and/or recognition of some of the issues that people in this community are dealing with on a regular basis," Mr. Creamer said. "I think everybody in the community should share the sacrifices and the burden that we all have here."

Reading the "purpose" of his proposed article, Mr. Creamer said, "In an effort to enhance the quality of employee performance through greater personal knowledge of and experience with the community's conditions; and, to develop a greater personal stake in the community's progress, while reducing the potential for absences and tardiness; and to ensure the ready availability of trained and critical management personnel in emergencies; and to foster the general economic benefits which result from spending one's salary in the employing community, while sharing associated local tax burdens and creating a greater sense of ownership within the community; the Town of Sturbridge hereby establishes the following residency requirements."

According to the proposed article, all newly appointed department heads (i.e. after the adoption of the bylaw) as identified in the town's organizational chart must establish residency in the Town of Sturbridge within 12 months of the successful conclusion of their six-month probationary period.

In addition, all currently serving department heads as identified in the town's organizational chart must establish residency in town within 18 months of the effective date of adoption of the bylaw.

The proposed article defines "residency" to mean the place where the employee normally eats and sleeps and maintains his/her normal personal and household effects.

Selectmen will most likely vote on the matter on Tuesday. A majority vote of the selectmen is necessary to place the article on the special town meeting warrant.

"It will be interesting to hear the arguments made at next Tuesday's selectmen meeting, as to how it's beneficial to the town and what the selectman who is proposing it is thinking," Mr. Suhoski said.

Mr. Mitchell said he thought the proposed bylaw amendment article is inappropriate for a town the size of Sturbridge. In addition, he thinks a regional marketing study on homes needs to be conducted before solidifying the 18-months grace period.

"You have a population of 9,000 in town, and to find a specialized position to live in town for the assessor or the finance director or other department head positions -- it's very tricky," Mr. Mitchell said. "It's a specialized type position. There's a lot of training required, and to find it in a community this size is near impossible. So I don't think it's appropriate."

Mr. Colburn said he would certainly be disappointed if he lost his job over a residency qualification and, if push comes to shove, he would not move to Sturbridge to keep his job.

Mr. Colburn said he was told there were more than 40 applicants for the conservation agent job that he eventually got, but none from any Sturbridge residents.

"I can see the point that you certainly want people on commissions to be town residents. … But I think some of the other departments, going outside the town, certainly opens up the pool of qualified people," Mr. Colburn said. "You're limiting the town too much and eliminating a lot of very qualified that could well for this town by instituting this bylaw. I think it's a mistake, myself."

Ms. Bubon said she had heard of the proposed bylaw but had not had an opportunity to review it yet, while Ms. Joel said she had no comment.

Mr. Ford, Ms. Barry and Mr. Meskus did not returns calls and could not be reached for comment.

Contact Craig S. Semon at