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Town Meeting to Reconsider Treasurer/Collector Vote (Poll)

After voting to keep the Town Treasurer/Collector position an elected spot rather than appointed one, Town Meeting may revisit the article.

After some back and forth between a couple Town Meeting members and Town Moderator Phillip Gallagher, Town Meeting will consider taking up an article voted on last week for reconsideration.

The issue in question is article 5, which asked members to consider changing the Town Treasurer/Collector position from an elected post to an appointed one.

The article was put forward by the Board of Selectmen, which recommended a favorably vote to Town Meeting. Selectman Walter Zenkin explained the board was in favor of making the change in order to avoid potential issues with the town budget.

Zenkin argued that making the position appointed would help ensure the most capable person be in the position to oversee the town's $107 million budget. He said that six months of an inexperienced treasurer making poor decisions could cause five years of damage to the town. He also said that while Burlington likely has qualified residents who can perform the responsibilities of the job, there is no guarantee that they will run for election or be voted in if they do.

"This is about doing the responsible and prudent thing and ensuring the treasurer/collector be the most capable person for the position," he said.

Zenkin said that if the article passed, current Treasurer/Collector Brian Curtin, who has served the town for 35 years, would be the first appointed person to the position.

"This is not about Brian, we've been fortunate to have him for 35 years," Selectman Daniel Grattan said. "But the town has changed a lot in that time; the office and responsibilities have grown. The next person won’t have the luxury of growing into this job as Brian did."

Opponents to the article said having the spot be appointed rather than elected would reduce the independence of the position.

Town Meeting Member Frank Monaco, Precinct 4, was one of the members who spoke against making the change.

"I’m clearly of a different opinion here; I think keeping this an elected position is just fine," he said. "My primary motivation is separation of power and division of responsibilities. The current system has accountability built into it." 

School Committee Member Thomas Murphy was also opposed to making the position appointed. He said that if the town administrator, who reports to the selectmen, appoints the treasurer/collector then the person in that job technically works for the Board of Selectmen.

"I’m against this article. As a member of another board, not in the executive branch, we have to work with the financial side of town. From my perspective, its invaluable to have independent financial treasurer to have discussions with. If the treasurer works for the executive board, he or she is basically working for them. For example, if we want to build another school and the Board of Selectmen doesn’t want to support and School Committee members go to the town treasurer and asks “can we afford it?’ he is going to be looking over his shoulder to ask the selectmen what is the best way to go."

At the end of the discussion Town Meeting voted 47 in favor of changing the position to appointed and 60 against, defeating the article.

However, during the discussion Town Meeting Member Norman Steeves proposed the vote be taken in a ballot rather than a hand vote, which provides more secrecy for voting members, a method used when members feel they could be intimidated if forced to vote publically. Initially Moderator Gallagher denied the motion but after the meeting reconsidered.

In an email sent to Town Meeting members Gallagher stated that "any motion for reconsideration is always in order" and that Town Meeting will have the opportunity to decide whether it wants to re-vote on the article.

"When that motion to reconsider is taken up it requires a two thirds majority to pass," Gallagher explained. "If the motion to reconsider passes then the original article is placed back on the floor in its exact original form and is subject to the same quantum of vote as in its original form. That motion is then read into the record and is scheduled to be taken up at the conclusion of all the business on the warrant.

Gallagher said he initially rejected Steeves order because it was "factually inaccurate and was signed by a member of the planning board." When Steeves made the motion, he also spoke about Gallagher's position in a bank that oversees funds by the town, with the implication of immodest dealings or conflict of interest, which Gallagher denied.

"While in this position it has always been my wish to avoid conflict with the membership whom I serve," Gallagher wrote. "Since this issue has created controversy amongst the members and since I have already stated my position on the matter I would offer the following compromise: The chair will accept a simple motion to reconsider article five. I will recuse myself from the deliberations and ask Mr. Monaco to assume the chair. The membership can then take whatever action you deem appropriate."

Town Meeting reconvenes at 7:30 p.m. this evening in the auditorium. There are still over 20 articles before Town Meeting so it is unclear whether this issue will be taken up tonight or in the next session, if one is necessary.

What do you think? Should the Town Treasurer/Collector remain an elected position or become an appointed one? Take our poll and let us know and as always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Matt Frost May 23, 2012 at 05:37 PM
No, the Town's Treasurer should be an appointed position because without a town vote, only once a year, there is no mechanism for replacing a departing treasurer, especially if nobody runs for the position. The current Treasurer has had no opposing candidates during elections for at least the past 20 years or longer, so there appears little interest in among residents to seek this job. Further, by not being appointed, the Treasurer is accountable only once per year, near election time, and the residents/voters are not in a good position to determine how good a job the Treasurer is doing. The Selectmen are in a better position for evaluating the Treasurer's performance than the voters. Also, the Selectmen are subject to election themselves, so a Treasurer appointed by the Selectmen is in fact accountable to the electorate while also being accountable year-round to the body best able to evaluate the Treasurer's performance.
Tax Payer/Voter May 24, 2012 at 04:44 PM
The fact the current town treasurer has not had an opponent for many years does not necessarily reflect, "little interest among residents to seek this job". Quite the opposite, Brian Curtin has done an outstanding job and the town is lucky to have him. When the time comes that Curtin moves on there will be plenty of people stepping up to run for the office. The elected treasurer is held accountable at the ballot every three years just like the selectmen. Making the position appointed will only serve to consolidate more power in the hands of the selectmen. Additionally, as a tax payer and voter, I am offended by the implication that voters are not smart enough to vote for the appropriate person for the job. I am not convinced that the board of selectmen and town administrator are any better positioned to appoint the treasurer than the voters. An elected town treasurer ensures an independent town treasurer who, while working closely with the board of selectmen and town administrator (as Curtin does now), will continue to make decisions that s/he deems appropriate for the town.
Dennis Bergeron May 31, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Did this ever come to the secret ballot vote? I don't recall seeing any results.
Brad Bond May 31, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Town Meeting voted against reconsidering the article.
Phil June 01, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Matt, There is a standard procedure for replacing on a temproray basis any elected official in the town until the nexct scheduled annual election.

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