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Mendon Musings

Unfortunately Perception is Reality in Mendon

There's an old saying in the public relations field that "Perception is Reality."

In other words, how people perceive a person or a situation is what they actually believe about that person or event. The "reality" of what happened doesn't really matter; only the way it's perceived counts.

Hence, you have the so-called "spin doctors" who try to adjust your perception of the various presidential candidates following the debates before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

So, how was the January 20 Mendon Board of Selectmen meeting perceived? Well, it depends on who you are.

If I were an employee of the Town of Mendon, I might look at it this way: the Board of Selectmen recently adopted a Compensation and Classification Study and the way the board placed employees on various salary "steps" hasn't exactly made everyone thrilled. Two elected officials sought and received higher pay by directly appealing to voters at a Special Town Meeting. Union members are continually being told there's no money available for more than a very small pay increase.

And then everyone learns that the board awarded a 34 percent pay increase to the town administrator, to keep her from taking a job in Canton. This transpired at a late afternoon/early evening meeting. She's now paid $18,000 more than the town administrator of Milford. How do you think the employees would perceive this?

There was no public explanation of this raise until the middle of the discussion that took place at the January 20 meeting.

Which leads us to that sorry spectacle. The best word I can think of to encompass the innuendo, bickering, posturing and losing of tempers that took place that night is an "embarrassment." Everyone involved in that mini telenovela clearly had no idea on how it was being perceived by those in attendance, those watching from home or the hundreds of people who have since watched it on the Internet.What happened is that a supposed rumor, which practically no one had heard got splashed on front pages and conveyed to thousands of people – whose perception of the event became their reality of what took place. This is now being compounded by the "witch hunt" investigation into who heard what, when and even questions about why people were attending that January 20 meeting. (My reason – I was in the building for another meeting that had just ended, saw the crowd going upstairs and got nosy.)If only the meeting could have been held another way. For example, what if the board held an executive session with the Police/Fire Chief to discuss that there was a complaint made against an un-named firefighter that needed to be investigated. All present at that meeting could decide on how to do that. The investigation could then occur and if nothing was found out, then nothing would happen. If something was found out, then the employee involved would be notified of pending charges and able to have his due process behind closed doors (or, in public, if he so chose). I don't know if that scenario is allowed under the state's Open Meeting law. But, it probably would have been perceived a whole lot better.

I'd also like to remind readers, the content of this column reflects my views as an individual and is not reflective of any elected or appointed board or committee or volunteer organization to which I belong.


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