Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Two Framingham officials seem to always be at
odds on how to run the town
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
D. Craig MacCormack (508-626-4429) Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Some say the bad blood between Town Manager George King and selectmen Vice Chairwoman Ginger Esty dates back to the 1970s, when King splintered from Esty's political circle and blazed a new trail.

Others, including King himself, say the relationship became strained in the past several years, when they were asked to work together as public officials.

Even if the genesis of the fallout is unclear, one fact stands out: King and Esty do not agree on much when it comes to moving Framingham forward.

"It's clear they are often at loggerheads," said Selectman Chris Ross, who joined the board two years ago and noticed Esty often makes a point of zinging King with her comments and reports.

"I wish I knew what her agenda is.  It seems like a lot of turning over rocks to find something.  She seems to have a folder of things she likes to introduce without letting us review them.  That's not a very good way to do business," said Ross.

Flare-ups between King and Esty have occasionally extended for a half-hour during Thursday night selectmen's meetings.  Both have made charts and developed reports to rebut what the other had said in previous meetings.

In the most recent spat, they traded shots in an e-mail from King to the board about the decision to close Red Star Lunch until a new owner is approved.  Esty asked for the eatery to stay open until a formal complaint was filed.

In his response, King wrote, "I am paid to make difficult decisions, often on the spur of the moment. " He said Esty has a "continued desire to Monday morning quarterback without offering alternative viable solutions."

Later in that e-mail, King blames Esty for creating a "hostile work environment" with "unfounded accusations" on a variety of topics.

In a Jan. 21 memo to selectmen, King accused Esty of going against board policy by asking the treasurer whether outstanding excise taxes from 1996 and earlier had been wiped off the books.

King answered that question for the board in August, and said Esty was wrong to try to pursue the information.  He wondered why she was "distrustful of the information provided."

"Questioning the personal integrity of the town treasurer and the assessor is not the way to approach things," said King in a telephone interview.  "I know Ginger has a lot of experience in Framingham politics, and at times she has good points, but she makes it so personal on so many fronts.

"Her approach is very much shoot first and ask questions later.  It can get unfairly personal at times, but it has no impact on the way we do business," he said.

Esty defends her dealings with King and her right to get the information she wants.  In her three-page response, she called King's reprimand "undemocratic" and "more typical of King George's taxation without representation."

"It wouldn't matter who was the town manager," she said by telephone.  "If I was experiencing the same lack of information, I would feel the responsibility to shed some light on it."

One long-time Framingham resident, who watches all of the selectmen's meetings on TV, said she sees Chairman Charles Sisitsky as part of the problem, saying, "He always sides with George."

"I think Ginger or any member of the board has the right to get any information they want to do their job," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.  "She's treated very rudely.  She appears to have no support from other members of the board."

Asked about the occasional back-and-forth between King and Esty, the woman said, "I think it's a terrible waste of time."

Sisitsky declined comment.

Former Selectman John Kahn agrees, but points the finger at Esty, with whom he clashed often during his time on the board.

"One of the problems I have with Ginger is she tends to take a position, then develop a factual pattern to support her position," he said.  "If there's something she doesn't understand, she attributes it to a conspiracy.

"When you have to work with someone like that, it can be very frustrating.  That kind of stirring up of problems is what Ginger is noted for," he said, pointing to her objection to the methadone clinic and wet shelter as two examples.

The relationship between King and Esty was never friendly, said Kahn, but it seems to have ratcheted up since early August, when a former King assistant's ex-husband filed a State Ethics Commission complaint against King.

Speculation about Esty's involvement in the complaint -- which the Ethics Commission declined to act on -- has continued, with some saying King's downfall would be Esty's ultimate revenge.  The complaint included allegations that King played strip poker with another assistant -- allegations King and the assistant have denied.

Esty has denied any involvement in the complaint.

"She plays the Gotcha! game very well," said Kahn of Esty.  "I think the situation has deteriorated and the tension has heightened over the last few months, but I don't know what that's due to."

One lifelong resident, who has known King and Esty for decades, said the two were "cut from the same cloth" politically and "grew out of the old Framingham movement."

In his 20s, King became "fairly progressive," said the Framingham native, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.  "No love is lost between (Esty) and people in the reform movement."

"Ginger probably feels (King) is a traitor to their original cause," the man said.  "She remembers things how they were.  The grudge factor has been a big part of how she maneuvers in the political system.

"One of the things that grates on Ginger is he has behind-the-scenes friendly relationships with people.  She kind of knows how to get his goat.  It doesn't take much to get under his skin," the man said.

King denies that charge.

"It's striking to me that (Esty's) challenges always seem to be personal and not professional," he said.  "Somehow I got stuck with the label of being thin-skinned.

"No one could do this job and take the personal attacks I've taken," he said.

Those attacks tend to bog down selectmen's meetings, many observe.

Ross is among those who have noticed the relationship worsen between King and Esty in recent months.  He's not sure why.

"It's an election year (for Esty)," he said.  "That might have something to do with it."

But most, including long-time political activist Mal Schulze, doesn't think much has changed between the two.

"I don't think they've ever been friends," he said.

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