ABOUT TOWN: Accusations Leveled at Stoughton's Interim Town Manager; Feaster Responds
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ACCUSATIONS LEVELED AT INTERIM TOWN MANAGER: The Stoughton Board of Selectmen and members of the press (myself included) recently received anonymous mailings postmarked from Sharon, which included press clippings from the Boston Globe and the Bay State Banner from 2004, concerning conflict of interest charges against Interim Town Manager Joseph D. Feaster, Jr., who was then the Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals in Boston.
Some members of the Board of Selectmen, as well as I, have also received anonymous calls, emails and texts accusing Feaster of going by train into his Boston law office, while on the clock as the Interim Town Manager. Also, certain members of the Board of Selectmen heard this directly from employees working in Town Hall.
I’ll admit that About Town was skeptical to begin with about these accusations. One of the calls, accusing Feaster of parking his car at Town Hall and traveling via train to Boston, came to me when I was in a town building for a meeting, and Feaster was there, too.
But, the story became a recurrent one, and the accusations became so widespread that I constantly heard them from a number of residents. I decided to look into the merits of the situation with a reporter’s eye. None of the alleged accusers would speak on the record. In addition, there are political ramifications with Feaster in the running for the permanent Town Manager position. He is under contract as Interim Town Manager until November 30, 2012. He has served in an interim capacity since April 1, 2012.
First of all, concerning the 2004 press clips, While on the Boston ZBA, Attorney Feaster was representing developer Joe LaRusa, whose projects had significant neighborhood opposition. But, Feaster recused himself from all ZBA votes on LaRusa’s projects. Still, all but one of LaRusa's projects passed the ZBA.
Feaster also came under fire for claiming Boston as his primary residence. His car was registered to his home in Stoughton (Feaster has had a residence in Stoughton since 1998). But, he also lived in a Roxbury home, he maintained.
The clippings reported that Boston Mayor Tom Menino removed Feaster from the ZBA. Feaster told About Town that he stepped down from the ZBA position: “I resigned from the position after serving 11 years, 3 as Chairman. It was simply too much aggravation.”
Bottom Line: The State Ethics Commission, in a letter dated August 3, 2005, said they were “not going to investigate the matter further.”
He had inadvertently signed three decisions that he had recused himself from. Ethics Commission Senior Investigator David Giannotti had asked him to “read what you sign before signing it, since signing a decision involving a client raises 23 (b) (3) issues.”
And, that was the end of the story.
Which brings us back to the accusations that Feaster has been traveling via train to Boston to his law office at McKenzie & Associates, P.C.
His biography at the firm’s website doesn’t mention his current position as Interim Town Manager in the Town of Stoughton. It speaks about his extensive law and municipal experience (as is appropriate for a legal site.)
Feaster’s Employment Agreement with the Town of Stoughton allows him to participate in “teaching, writing, speaking, consulting (including legal consulting and/or advice) on personal time. Said activities and compensation, if any from said activities, are expressly permitted, provided that in no case is any activity allowed which would present a conflict of interest with the Town of Stoughton or interfere with his duties as Interim Town Manager.”
Feaster allowed About Town full access to his calendar, which covered all the time he has served since taking the job. Aside from vacation days, his calendar seemed jammed full. In fact, each time I have had appointments with him, there were people waiting before and after I left.
Feaster said he granted access to the calendar “because I wanted to put this issue to bed.”
Feaster told me, “I’ve been in the game long enough. I know what folks will do. I don’t get near the line. Certain people can dance on the line and nothing happens to them. I won’t even take a car or cell phone from the town.”
The Attorney, who is paid about $11,666 per month, receives no benefits from the town, except a week’s vacation that was added to his Extension of Employment Agreement (his original interim contract was extended in July as the permanent Town Manager search continues).
As for all these various charges leveled at him, he wonders why all the accusations have been anonymous. “If they have the evidence, let them come up to the third floor [of Town Hall] and face me. They have no guts and they don’t have their facts straight. I don’t like anonymous cowards. They’re not going to catch me doing something stupid. I don’t take kindly to nonsense. Don’t hide behind anonymity. If you have something, bring it!”
Feaster said that he’s gone to Boston a number of times for meetings with officials, and he sometimes will stop by his law office.
“But, does it interfere with my performance as Interim Town Manager? No. I don’t have time for my practice, unlike some of my predecessors," Feaster said. "I’m here at 7 a.m. most weekdays. I have more things to do than I have time for. It angers me to have folks make these allegations. [I've been to] Boston. I’ve been to my firm. I have no new cases.”
“I’d like to do both. I’d have a hefty income," Feaster admitted. "But, it’s impossible. This was started by disgruntled folks going out the door. When they think I’m in Boston, I’m meeting with library staff, or DPW, or schools. I’m not in Boston practicing law. My contract says I can do other things, but I don’t have time to because of the requirements of this job. They don’t know what they are talking about or they are lying. Bring me the proof.”
Feaster added, “I’ve done more appearing at town events that any previous town manager.”
Feaster, the first African-American in the top office in Stoughton, was asked if he felt it could be racism that brought these claims.
“I’m inclined to feel I’ve been singled out. I’m here a little over 100 days. I’ll let your reading public be the judge. What they’re saying is just not so. I want to make my case. That’s the lawyer in me. I do feel I’m being treated differently than my predecessors. I have some great visions for what can be done in this town.”
Feaster is favored to be in the final three when interviews are completed for the permanent Town Manager position. An independent consultant and community volunteer group is working on narrowing down the finalists for the job.
Calls to some members of the Board of Selectmen for comment on this story were not returned by deadline.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To Terry Schneider, Executive Director of the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce. To Carolyn Schwartz of Stoughton. And to Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady. Number 12 turns 35 on Friday. How about another Super Bowl championship?