Photo: Floyd Carman, Belmont’s town treasurer
The Belmont Select Board is set to move quickly to implement one of the major reforms called for in a scathing review of the town’s governmental structure by converting the critical Town Treasurer’s position from an elected post to an appointed one as it takes advantage of the reported retirement of long-term incumbent Floyd Carman.
The board’s announcement, made at its Aug. 29 meeting, has quickly elevated the revamping of the treasurer’s job to the most pressing of the 19 recommendations from the Collins Center’s review now before the three members.
“With [Carman] not running again, this is our chance to make the change,” said Board Member Adam Dash.
The select board’s unconfirmed announcement that Carman is retiring after 17-plus years in the position came as a surprise as Carman has not made his future plans public. When reached for comment, Carman said he’ll discuss his future after Labor Day.
First elected in 2005, the former John Hancock executive has been lauded by town officials and residents for his fiscal acumen, resulting in the town’s top-tier AAA bond rating – rare among municipalities – while negotiating debt servicing that provided savings to ratepayers.
With Carman now expected not to seek re-election in April 2023, the Select Board decided to move quickly to meet a major Collins Center recommendation to overhaul the position into an appointed post. The board believes, along with the Center, the town will benefit from a larger pool of qualified applicants as is done by nearly 80 percent of large towns and cities in Massachusetts which appoints their chief fiscal leaders.
“I think we got really lucky last time around that we were able to have [Carman] interested [in the position],” said Ellen Schreiber, who commented on the proposal. “And I don’t think that it’s going to be very easy to find a Belmont resident who has these qualifications.”
‘The most important issue we’re facing’
“I would put almost everything else in the report on hold … with the exception of the budget process, but far and away the treasurer question is the most important issue we’re facing,” said the Board’s Roy Epstein.
The race to transform the treasurer’s post is twofold: the treasurer will have a critical hand in how the town – which Warrant Committee Chair Geoff Lubien compared to a large corporation in its financial complexity – implements the budgetary and fiscal changes the Collins Center addressed.
“I think that the financial situation of the town is much, much more complicated than it was years ago,” said Schreiber, who said the treasurer’s post is “a professional position” which needs to be filled by someone who has made a career in the field.
Second, the transformation will need to take place before the 2023 Town Election in April, or a newly-elected treasurer will be on the job for three-years before the town will have the opportunity to make an appointment.
The board initially supported a plan where the appointed Treasurer’s position would be placed on the Special Town Meeting warrant which will open on Sept. 12. The measure would be brought to the STM in mid-November for members to debate and vote followed by a town-wide election in January. This will than allow the town to begin the hiring process for a new treasurer before the annual Town Meeting in May.
But the board’s blueprint was put on hold when the enabling legislation was unclear on what body – the annual town meeting or the voters – has the final say. The board will seek Town Counsel George Hall’s advice on the correct path to meet its goal.
Even with a plausible framework to move the treasurer’s position to an appointed post before the Town Election, Board Chair Mark Paolillo noted the move will be “a very controversial issue with immediate resistance in town” and it will need time to “socialize” the public on the need for a change.
“Do we have enough time to help folks provide input to us about this even though we may be unanimous on this and then have an election in January?” he said.
Town Moderator Michael Widmer, who attended the meeting to provide advice, said the board should proceed with its initiative even if it’s done in “at an accelerated timeframe,” noting the town is attempting to follow up on the recommendations “as expeditiously as possible.” If someone is elected to the treasurer’s post before the change is made, it will delay the Collins Center’s guidance by three years, which Epstein said “would be very unfortunate.”
If a January vote a possibility, “I would like to see all of us hold hands together on this and have a unified front saying ‘this is what we think is best for the town,” said Lubien. “I think it’s going to take that to convince folks that this is the right change at the right time.”