March 14 2019

Letter to the Editor: Vote NO on Question 1

The following is a Letter to the Editor: 


The ballot question represents a watershed event in the maintenance of a system of checks and balances on financial issues in the town of Burlington. Currently serving under the Board of Selectmen authority are the budget analyst, town accountant and town auditor. On the school side, both the business manager and finance director report to the executive body. Passage of this question would result in eliminating the only remaining position that is responsible directly to the taxpayers of Burlington.


Some have argued that because of voter apathy only the Selectmen can be entrusted to select the most qualified and experienced person to fill this position. This is incorrect on many levels.


This Treasurer position is not a specialist. The position requires a manager of people and an analyst of policy. If placed under the selectmen an appointee will be expressing a policy position which has been decided for him or her by the administration. Appointing this position will result in never again hearing a divergent opinion in public. Can you imagine an appointee who is reliant upon management for their job to ever deviate from the Board of Selectmen position?


The treasurer has oversight responsibility for a variety of functions including bonding, cash management, payroll, investments, the collection of all fees from all departments, real estate and personal property taxes, water bills, insurance, and retirements. To assist in these functions the town has 9 full-time employees each with individual responsibilities in these specialties. These people have nearly 100 years of experience with the town. The treasurer also has bond counsel, an insurance actuary, and a retirement system specialist to rely on. In short, the treasurer is not a lone ranger.


Some say that there is a shortage of people who would be qualified to fill this position by election. This is nonsense. Burlington is a highly educated community with according to the town census, more than 900 people with financial services experience. What's more, every corporation, nonprofit and municipality in the Commonwealth has a treasurer. It is not a unique vocation.


Although I can't predict who the candidates might be in town, on the Ways and Means alone there are at least 7 people who have more than enough educational, municipal, and management experience to fill this position. The Chairman, David Tait, Susan Harrigan, Sonia Rollins, Brad Bond, John Iler, and Frank Monaco could fill this position admirably. Can you imagine how many more people in town might qualify?


Let's compare the voters versus the selectmen's success in major appointments. Over the past 40 years, the selectmen have hired 4 town administrators and fired two. They have hired four town counsels and fired three. The treasurer has a colorful history. In 1968 the selectmen had a particular favorite in the job and sponsored an article to make him “treasurer for life” (age 70) which was defeated. After he was subsequently charged with embezzlement the selectmen appointed the state representative's brother as the interim appointment. In the following election, he was defeated by Mr. Curtin who has subsequently survived 13 elections by the voters many times topping the ticket.


In another rather dubious decision, the selectmen replaced the veterans agent by a 3-2 vote with a former state senator who had served a sentence in the federal penitentiary for extortion.


The voters have a much better record in the three most important individual positions. Over the past 40 years, we have had 3 excellent town clerk's, Kay McKim, Jane Chew, and Amy Warfield all of whom have been re-elected. Over that same period, the voters have elected 7 town moderators only one of which was defeated and a treasurer that has placed himself before the voters 13 times.


So which is a more rigorous selection process? A small selection committee is chosen by the selectmen that reviews resumes which then forwards three recommendations for a brief public interview or a contested election with candidates running an 8-week campaign complete with televised debates, door knocking, lawn signs, bumper stickers, coffee parties, newspaper ads, poll signs, and dear friend cards?


In closing, I would mention that the consolidation of power in fewer and fewer people is always a prescription for disaster for any type of organization and is particularly dangerous for the government. There is a reason why the State Treasurer and State Auditor remain elected positions. That same logic applies to Burlington.



Phillip Gallagher

8 Corcoran Road, Burlington


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