Published in the January 29, 2019 edition.


WAKEFIELD – Three appointments that in another time might have gone almost unnoticed became immersed a controversy over gender at last night’s Town Council meeting.

The Town Council had publicly sought applicants to fill three at-large public spots on the new 17-member Public Safety Building Re-Assessment Committee. The three members appointed by unanimous vote last night were Robert Mitchell of Spaulding Street, Brian McCoubrey of Elm Street and Marc Moccio of Linda Road.

No one quibbled with the qualifications of those three or with the eight individuals who applied. The problem, in the view of several Town Council members, was that all eight applicants were male.

The 2018 Annual Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly last May to approve an $8 million rehab of the Public Safety Building after a months-long needs assessment study found that there were serious space and structural deficiencies in the current building. Another major concern was the location of dispatch on the second floor, leaving the lobby manned only a few hours a day by the public records officer.

But after the Town Meeting vote, a group of citizens collected the needed 200 signatures to force a town-wide ballot and the project was defeated by 71 votes in a Special Election on June 29, 2018.

Last September, Town Councilor Edward Dombroski brought forward a proposal for a new Public Safety Building Re-Assessment Committee.

“The issues (at the Public Safety Building) remain,” he said at the time. “We have needs being unmet that need to be met.”

After some discussion at that September meeting, the Town Council voted to create a 17-member committee to take another look at the Public safety Building needs. The committee would have the following composition: Police Chief Rick Smith; Fire Chief Michael Sullivan; Deputy Police Chief Craig Callabrese; two Permanent Building Committee members (including Chairman Joseph Bertrand); two Finance Committee members; DPW Director Richard Stinson; one Fire Captain; a representative of the Wakefield Alliance Against Violence; a representative of WAKE-UP; one member of the Town Council (likely Dombroski, who is the liaison to the Police Department, to chair the committee) and three members of the public to be appointed by the Town Council.

At last night’s meeting Dombroski moved to appoint Mitchell, McCoubrey and Moccio to those three public spots from a list of eight applicants.

Town Councilor Ann Santos said that she had no problem with appointing that group, adding that she saw the others as good candidates to serve on other committees.

But Town Councilor Mehreen Butt did have an issue with the eight candidates who applied.

“I’m disappointed that all eight were men,” she said. “We need to look at how we recruit. What we’re doing isn’t working.”

But Dombroski noted that he and others had aggressively advertised for applicants to serve on the committee through social media, the Daily Item and other media.

“This was posted in 18 different forums,” he said. “That’s who applied.” He reminded the board that groups like the Finance Committee, the Board of Health, WAKE-UP and WAAV will all have representation on the committee and some of those members are bound to be women.

“When it shakes out,” he predicted, “it will be more gender diverse.”

Still, Butt suggested that more targeted recruitment to attract women might have attracted a different mix of candidates.

“It’s a pretty sad sign to have just eight men apply,” she said.

Dombroski noted that gender is only one form of diversity, adding that the three who were appointed have very diverse backgrounds and qualifications.

Chairman Peter May asked, “How can you force women to apply?

Butt and Santos said that it wasn’t a question of “forcing” women to apply. Santos said that it was more about going to specific groups and encouraging women to become involved as candidates for appointments.

Town Councilor Tony Longo was somewhat disturbed by the direction of the discussion.

“There was no, ‘Women need not apply’ to this position,” he argued. “You’re giving the impression that we’re not allowing women. I can’t believe were having this discussion.”

But Santos, Butt and Julie Smith-Galvin insisted that they were not alleging that. The issue, they maintained, was how the board should recruit for appointed positions going forward.

In the end, the vote was 6-0 to appoint Mitchell, McCoubrey and Moccio. Smith-Galvin abstained because her husband, Thomas Galvin, was one of the applicants.