Not If, But When: Select Board Ponders Best Date For Town Meeting Vote On Appointed Treasurer

Photo: The Belmont Select Board

Mark Paolillo, chair of the Belmont Select Board, summed up the prevailing feeling of appointing all future town treasurers at the end of the public forum on Oct. 27.

“It’s not if, but when,” Paolillo said, proclaiming the board’s support of what they have called ”the most important” of the 19 inter-related recommendations on revamping the town’s governmental structure by the Collins Center.

The treasurer’s post is currently held by Floyd Carman who is up for re-election in the coming town election in April 2023. Carman is yet to make an official decision on running for another three-year term, some town and elected officials have said publically that he would not seek another term.

The board will decide at its Nov. 7 meeting the date it will bring the appointed treasurer article before Town Meeting. The earliest would be Nov. 29 during the first night of the Special Town Meeting.

The board has previously supported moving forward toward implementing many of the recommendations, including some that have already been acted upon, such as changes to the budget process and the creation of a Financial Committee.

Presented to the board in June and at the Special Town Meeting in November, the Collins Center report bluntly stated Belmont was one of the most, if not the most, decentralized governments in the Commonwealth with a bevy of independent boards and positions. This structure had a negative impact on how the town managed its finances.

The Select Board and others, from Warrant Committee to interested residents, believed transforming the town’s treasurer from an elected to an appointed post was essential as its role in managing many of the town’s significant financial transactions: issuing bills, managing taxpayers accounts, cash and debt management, investments and running the department.

Moving from an elected to the appointed position is spelled out in Massachusetts General Laws: First, Town Meeting must vote to approve the change at least 60 days before the town’s annual election in April. Second, the measure must pass at the annual election. If someone runs for the three-year post, which is up for election in 2023, the incumbent will serve until a permanent appointment is made.

The new non-elected treasurer will be appointed by the Town Administrator.

The board is wrestling with the question of when to present an amendment before the Town Meeting. For those seeking a quick resolution to the question – such as board vice chair Adam Dash and Warrant Committee Chair Geoffrey Lubien – the change isn’t rocket science, so there is no reason for a delay.

“We should put it on the warrant, and if it fails, it fails. Because if we don’t put it on the warrant, we start kicking this down the road as we did for 11 years,” said Ann Helgen of the Warrant Committee, referring to a 2011 Department of Revenue report that advised the town to appoint the treasurer.

Chair Paolillo and others such as Jack Weiss believe not just Town Meeting but town voters need to ”buy in” on the change, which can best be accomplished with other forums and discussions on the issues, building support through educating the public on the Collins Center report. Bill Andersen suggested that more report recommendations be implemented concurrently with the Treasurer’s position to gain momentum in passing the needed changes.

Some residents continue to push for an elected belief that someone resides in the “Town of Homes” with the expertise and drive to step into Carman’s shoes without much problem.

”I wanted it to remain independent and a Belmont resident,” said Judith Sarno. ”I think our track record shows Belmont residents elect qualified candidates,” pointing to the first-time elected Light Board.

But that belief runs counter not just to the Collins Center’s recommendation but also to best practices that nearly eight of ten communities in the Commonwealth – from ”teenie weenie” 500-person villages to the largest cities – appoint their financial chief.

“This is not about Floyd; it’s not about any one person. It’s about coming into the 21st century,” said Helgen.

While the bulk of the public forum focused on the pros and cons of an appointed treasurer, politics did come into play by some residents. Saying she wanted to call out the ”elephant in the room,” Judith Feinleib said she would oppose an appointed treasurer since the post would be filled by the current town administrator, Patrice Garvin. While she’s willing to accept a designated candidate, ”I want at least the treasurer to report to an elected body.”

Saying she wanted to provide greater nuance to Feinleib’s comments, Warrant Committee Secretary Elizabeth Dionne said a lot of the opposition to the appointed town treasurer is particular to Garvin.

“A number of us have seen egregious and dishonest and abusive emails circulating around her … that very explicitly states opposition to the elected treasurer in connection with her position, that this was a power grab and an effort on her behalf.”

In a bit of fun, Dash said a solution would be to place an appointed treasurer article on every town meeting warrant “until the members had enough and gave up.”

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