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Cohasset: Selectmen fire new Town Manager

Wednesday night Cohasset Selectmen unanimously adopted a resolution to remove Town Manager Michael Coughlin effective immediately. Coughlin has the right to a public hearing which could reverse the decision. Attorneys for the town and Coughlin have agreed to hold the hearing March 13th at 7 p.m. The town will continue to pay Coughlin his salary until the hearing and final resolution.

The core of the preliminary resolution states:

“The Board of Selectmen has concluded that the Town Manager’s communications with the Board demonstrate that the Board and the Town Manager do not share in common the same views as to how important matters should be communicated or as to the most effective manner in which those matters should be handled. Under the Town Manager Act the Board must supervise the interests and welfare of the Town through the Town Manager, the Town Manager must effectively advise the Board of all matters requiring action by the Board and by the Town, and the Board and Town Manager must be able to work together closely and harmoniously. Accordingly the Board has determined that the efficient management of the Town requires that it terminate the Town Manager’s employment.”

Coughlin began the job last August 1. When they hired him, selectmen lauded his “consensus-building style.” In his first week on the job, he asked all department heads for their goals and objectives. Many department heads attended the brief Selectmen’s meeting and subsequent informal question and answer session with Chairman of Selectmen Ted Carr.

A former JAG Army Captain and youth sports coach, Coughlin frequently communicates in sports analogies, calling himself coach and town employees the team. He says he spoke and emailed Carr daily. Carr said the became friends. Selectmen voted to remove him without cause, referring only to “communications with the board.”

Coughlin formerly served as Town Administrator in three other towns, leaving each after three years.

Selectman Diane Kennedy read a statement during the meeting. No other selectman spoke. She stressed the board’s action was not the result of a pending bid by the town’s  water commissioners.

Coughlin said the bid, or RFP (request for proposals), lay at the heart of the dispute.

The town manages 90 percent of its water system. A private water company, Aquarion, manages the system in the north section of town. Aquarion also manages the water systems of neighboring Hingham and Hull. Hingham has discussed terminating its relationship with Aquarion because of annual rate increases.

Chairman of Cohasset’s Water Commissioners Peter DeCaprio has proposed the town ask for bids from private water companies to manage the entire water system. DeCaprio is managing director of the Crow Point Partners hedge fund of Scituate and New York City. The fund received a $15 million investment from Aquarion’s parent company, an Australian holding company.

Coughlin has publicly objected to the water commissioners’ bid, saying only he, as the town’s procurement officer, can manage the provision of goods and services to the town.

Selectmen will meet Friday, Feb. 17, at 4 p.m. to plan for interim management of town government.

About Charles Mathewson

Charles Mathewson worked in print journalism for more than two decades as a reporter and editor, and has won several regional and national awards. He resides in Plymouth where he writes fiction and paints, when not producing award-winning news as a reporter for WATD.