Brookline town hallWithin Brookline Town Government, the role of the Commercial Areas Coordinator is to balance our large community’s complex web of residential, commercial, and government interests. Marge Amster served this role so well, her name became synonymous with the position. Marge chose early retirement last week, in large part, as a result of inappropriate behavior within the powerful Town Advisory Committee (AC) that was left unchecked. Remaining in her position became untenable.

The Commercial Areas Coordinator (CAC) position has been a political lightening rod for years. It’s funding came through the support of the Board of Selectmen, two Town Administrators, fellow staff members and scores of supporters from our residential and commercial communities.

Each year without fail, a small contingent from the AC votes to reconsider funding the CAC position. This year alone, they voted on it at three different times. Each time it came up for debate, people from all over our community sat patiently for hours to either testify in support or stand vigil over the deliberations. Each time Marge Amster’s supervisors testified her job performance met their highest standards. Residents and members of the business community repeatedly testified the CAC is critical to Brookline and that Ms Amster has served the community well. In May, it took the efforts of our Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Betsy Dewitt, and a packed room to plead with the AC to keep the position another year.

There is nothing wrong or unethical about a town-appointed committee voting against popular opinion. They should vote their conscience, but for years, rumors have swirled that some committee members have had personal agendas against the CAC position, and worse, the person serving in it. This created a controversy out of proportion with the position’s $70,000 price tag within a town budget that exceeds $200,000,000.

This May, things escalated.  The conduct of one AC member was so egregious, it is the view of this publication the town should readdress the scope of the AC’s powers and selection of its members. Two community members reported to me that this person expressed incorrect information regarding Marge Amster’s job performance and what this publication interpreted as a threat toward Ms. Amster. When I called the AC member for verification, he repeated the misinformation and the alleged threat almost verbatim. He went on with additional inappropriate information, almost all of which I personally knew to be fiction. In this conversation, he also shared inappropriate information about other town employees, citing which were next on the “chopping block”. This type of behavior would not be allowed within a company, and it was disheartening, at best, to witness it from a member of Brookline government. I immediately contacted AC Chairman Harry Bohrs and the Town Moderator, Sandy Gadsby to report what I was told as well as the names of those who first reported the behavior to me.

When I reported the incident, I wrongly assumed some kind of tangible action or investigation would ensue. Mr. Gadsby never asked to speak with me in person to obtain more information on the matter. To the best of my knowledge, he had no contact with the others to whom the AC member conveyed the misinformation.

Imagine the stress if your position was the focal point of debate and controversy every year because of personal agendas. In this economy, nobody’s job is secure but most of us don’t need our supervisors, fellow workers or the community at large to devote hours each year to save it. Now, to fully appreciate the situation, add the specter of a threat to the mix. Ms Amster lives in Brookline and raised her family here. How could she know whether a personal threat could also include her family? How could she know for a fact whether the threat was real or just verbal intimidation? She had no choice but to report the incidents to her supervisor and Human Resources.

When asked for the record what measures were taken to address the alleged threat and attempts to discredit Ms. Amster, Sandy Gadsby replied in writing, “At the request of the Town Director of Human Resources, and on my own initiative, I spoke with Fred last May and conveyed to him my view of the inappropriateness of his alleged remarks.”

Following this reported conversation, we have no knowledge of the Town Moderator initiating an investigation into the incident. No apology or explanation was offered to Ms. Amster. The public can only assume the AC member retains his post in good standing.

Given the Town’s lack of communication with Ms. Amster and the yearly evaluation of the CAC position, Marge Amster had every right to believe the person who spread untruths about her and threatened her would sit again in judgment of her this Spring. In view of this likely scenario and with concern for her personal welfare and that of her family, she chose early retirement. She is returning to the field of education, helping middle school kids with math competency so that they feel better about themselves and lead happier lives. It is this publication’s view that this represents a tragedy for Brookline and a blessing for many young people in the future. Given the circumstances, the kids deserve Marge Amster more than we do.

Marge distributed a letter to select members of Brookline Government, the CCMA, and the Chamber announcing her departure. In it, she expressed her fear concerning the situation, the lack of any tangible action in response to it and her decision to move on to other opportunities.

In a comment for the record about Marge Amster’s message, Sandy Gadsby commented, “I have read the message that Marge Amster sent to the chamber et al. I have only one comment that I would make for the record. Marge’s message implies that the Lebow comment(s) were made in the context of the Advisory Committee’s budget deliberations, and this assertion in some manner implicates the Committee. As you are no doubt aware, this is not correct. The Committee cannot and should not be held responsible for asinine comments that its members might make in private conversations with third parties.”

It is inconceivable how comments made to a member of the Board of Selectmen, another respected and influential member of the community, the Publisher of this publication and who knows how many others could be construed as private conversations. It is the view of this publication that the intentions of these actions could be reasonably interpreted as an attempt to publicly intimidate and discredit a town employee.

When asked for her reaction to the situation, Ms. Amster responded, “When I heard the remark about taking out a gun and shooting me I was immediately shocked, scared, and then I got really angry. It’s one thing to question a budget, but it ‘s another to personally harass someone in his or her workplace. [It was] totally uncalled for by a person who has never had any meaningful interaction with me ever.  I couldn’t believe it at first so I went to my boss who immediately confirmed through another source that the comments and threats made toward me were true.”

How could this have happened? Read Part 2 of series.

 

R. Harvey Bravman