Charter Review Reconsiders Finance Committee Appointment Process

By Meredith McCulloch

Charter-ReviewOn September 11 two members of the Finance Committee, Thomas Busa and Stephen Carluccio, came to the Charter Review Committee meeting to speak against a recommended change in the Finance Committee appointment process. At their August 28 meeting, the Charter Review Committee had approved a recommendation that the power to appoint Finance Committee members would rest with the Moderator. Currently there is a three-person committee, made up of the Chair of Selectmen, Chair of Finance Committee and the Moderator, who make the appointment. It must be unanimous. Statewide, there are many systems for appointing the Finance Committee, but in most towns the Moderator appoints.

The Charter Review Committee had focused on three issues: whether a School Committee member should be part of the appointment authority; whether a two-thirds vote could suffice to make an appointment so no member would essentially have a veto over appointments; and whether there should be a set process that requires the chairmanship of committees to rotate.  By custom, most town committees rotate their chairs frequently.

Busa said he has been on the Finance Committee for 12 years and served as Chair for 6 years.  He argued against any change, saying, “Bedford does not do things like other towns, but often does them better,” emphasizing that the high bond rating and fiscal health of the town demonstrate that the current system is working.

Committee member Selectmen Michael Rosenberg responded, “I understand what you are saying, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ What bothers me”, he said, “is to have the Selectmen or the School Committee appointing, when by its very nature the Finance Committee is adversarial. That’s their job. I wouldn’t want the selection even subconsciously to be influenced by board considerations.  The Moderator cannot be compromised by relationship with other town boards.”

Betsey Anderson, Bedford Moderator and Chair of the Committee reported on her research which she said is just informational. She is abstaining on the vote. She found no town that included the School Committee.  Appointment by the Moderator is the practice in the largest number of towns by far. When she asked moderators about how they made appointments, she learned that they consult with others in town positions. The charter could even specify “after consultation,” she suggested.

Ed Pierce from the School Committee pointed out that the Finance Committee essentially appoints it own members, which is unusual for an appointed board. “We went through a number of iterations, he said, “and Betsy’s research, and the balance came out for me that the Moderator is elected by the voters.”

Anne Bickford commented, “ It is linked in part to what Mike had been saying and linked to the fact that we don’t have a set process of rotation for turnover of leadership in town. If it happened automatically then [balance] would happen over time. The moderator is elected and can turn over every three years.”

Busa commented, “We ‘ve had long dialogues…always come to an agreement. We always left with agreement; it works perfectly, why would we want to make a change, if it is not broken.”

Carluccio added, “The town-wide perspective comes from the Selectmen and Finance Committee. They have their hand in everything that is going on in town. If there is some other perspective that is being missed…….it feels different from the way we do things in Bedford.”

Rosenberg responded, “My personal perspective is that when there is real tension, an appointing committee may be working at cross-purposes. The only one who is truly neutral is the Moderator. We’ve been so successful in recent years, but there is no guaranteeing it will continue. During the 1970s town government was almost dysfunctional at times.”

Regarding rotation of the chair, Busa warned that is takes time to learn the process. The vice-chair should be next in line and understand the process, but recently the vice-chair moved out of town just prior to taking the chairmanship.

Moving toward a conclusion, the suggestion to add a School Committee member to the appointing committee was dropped and no requirement for rotation of the chair was included. In the end, the Committee voted to rescind the previous vote and to leave the appointment process as it currently is.

The Charter Review Committee will meet Monday September 22 at 6:45 pm to wrap up their work and will present their recommendations to the Selectmen that evening.

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