Ashland needs a good, common sense businessman as town manager

To The Daily Sun,

My last letter told about the importance of good leadership for the town of Ashland and the incredible opportunity we can take advantage of at our waste treatment plant, if we work hard to that goal.

Ashland is a town with significant expenses, limited taxable property and low population who all share in its burden. Our town desperately needs a good businessman as town manager to develop our opportunities and to provide guidance to our selectmen in making good decisions.

Another example of good leadership was Thomas "Punky" Marsh. His supervision of the Ashland Electric Department was exceptional. He built the department into a well-managed machine for the benefit of the town and customers. At one point he asked the people if he could attempt to add North Ashland Road to the department's plant, provided we could do it for the right price, no more than $600,000. The people overwhelmingly approved because they had the highest respect and confidence that Punky would do what was right. After time, Punky decided the cost to do the project outweighed the benefit. His decision showed true leadership putting the welfare of the town and department above all. He made the right decision. He retired leaving the Electric Department in excellent condition physically and fiscally.

Our town cannot afford bad decision-making. Bad decisions in any of our departments affect Ashland residents.

Let me list just a few decisions made with poor leadership that we cannot afford to continue to make: Soon after I finished my term as selectman in 2002, the Electric Departments superintendent, Lee Nichols, walked into the town office and informed them that "from now on the Electric Department will be doing all its own payroll." The payroll for all town employees has always been paid by the town office. Nichols, with his new commissioners, was determined to do financial management himself. Rather than using the town's tax ID number they used a tax ID number applied for by Nichols personally. This is crazy, it gives Nichols, a town employee, the ability to open, deposit, withdraw and close accounts anywhere he wants all under the name of Ashland Electric. This was a very bad business decision, but the commissioners went along with it. Soon Nichols convinced the commissioners to go along with his scheme to do the North Ashland Road project that Punky chose not to do. Nichols figured it would cost $1.7 million. Through a dubious set of circumstances it was eventually approved. Nichols and the commissioners spent in excess of $2 million on a four- to five-year project. But it has been 14 years now and the project is still not finished.

Nichols promised that an extra fee to the new North Ashland Road customers would pay for the project, but this fee adds up to about $9,000 per month, the note is about $13,000 per month. Where do you suppose the rest is coming from? You and me, that's who.

He promised we would not need to add any more employees. The commissioners have added more. All said and done, if the project is ever completed and after spending way more than $2 million we will have a project that results in a value no more than $600,000. Fiscally irresponsible leadership. Incredibly bad decision. Ego wins, Ashland loses.

Recently, Nichols offers the selectmen a "gift" from the Electric Department of a flag pole in the ball park. The money for this so called "gift" comes right out of user fees so it is not a "gift" at all. The selectmen should have said "No." But they accepted. Poor leadership, bad judgment. The people should have voted to approve the expenditure or not.

Then Nichols and his commissioners decided to build a 40-foot by 80-foot building on town property. They told the selectmen what they were going to do and the selectmen approved it. The trustees wrote to the selectmen before construction began informing them that they had not been authorized by the vote of the people to approve this. The selectmen said they can do it without a vote. If what they say is true, they can approve a new building on any town property without the voters' approval. They went ahead and built it. This is very bad leadership. With a good town manager none of these bad decisions would have been made.

Ashland needs a good, common sense businessman as town manager to put an end to the bad decision making and to pursue the profitable opportunities at our waste treatment plant and more. Please vote "Yes" for town manager plan.

Tom Peters

Former Ashland Selectmen current Trustee

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