Dennis Berry's Statement Regarding The Appointment of Wayland's Finance Committee Members

I'm using this opportunity to present to you an idea of local, not national or state political interest. That is the proposal, which will be an article at the May Town Meeting, that the Wayland Finance Committee (Fin Com) should not be appointed solely by the Board of Selectmen, but instead by the Moderator alone or a hybrid group.

Last Monday night, I presented a first draft of that article to the BOS so that they may better understand my point of view. I plan to pursue this with the hope that the Board and the town accept it, not as an adversarial action, but as a further step the evolution in Wayland’s town government. My understanding as I left the meeting was that the article will be included in the Warrant for the May Town Meeting as a submission by the Moderator. Under town bylaw the Moderator and Town Clerk, can individually submit articles for the warrant.

For those of you who attended the Town Meeting last May, you may recall that a petitioner’s article on this subject, with little or no pre-meeting publicity or discussion, received 47 percent of the votes cast losing by a rather close vote of 229 in favor, 255 opposed. If 14 votes had changed it would have prevailed. A vote this close on a petitioner’s article with little pre-meeting promotion suggests that the voters of Wayland are ready for this change.   

As a former Selectman, I participated in appointing members of the Finance Committee as had my predecessors and my successors. It was only after I became Moderator and began interacting with other moderators that I saw how out of step Wayland is with the rest of the state. I came to realize that our method of Finance Committee appointment was not only unique, but out of line with the separation of powers doctrine at the heart of American government theory.  This is not just a personal point of view. Removing the Fin Com appointment authority from the BOS was suggested in the 2018 Collins report.[1] That is the report, that served as that basis for the movement to appoint a town manager, which was adopted last year and awaits approval by the legislature. 

In July of 2019 when the BOS were actively promoting the idea of going to a town manager form of government, I wrote them a somewhat lengthy letter in which I indicated my support for that concept. In that letter I pointed out that a change i of the Fin Com the appointment process for the Fin Com was also contained in the Collins Report. It is a complementary notion to the evolution to a town manager. I don’t know if my letter was ever considered or discussed by the Board. I never received a written response or even verbal acknowledgement.  I would be happy to provide a copy of that letter to any who have an interest.  

Let me share with you some key points why I think this change is important and should be enacted at the Town Meeting next May.

  • Separation of powers:  We all know the concept of separation of powers and how it is at the heart of American government. The State and Federal governments have Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. Local governments have only the first two, the Executive Branch, (the BOS, School Committee, and paid administration) and the Legislative Branch (the Town Meeting). It is accepted, as set out in the Finance Committee operating manual, that the Finance Committee represents the Town Meeting i.e. the Legislative Branch, how is it that its members are appointed by the Executive Branch. To create the separation of powers, the Fin Com should not be subject to appointment by the Executive. The conflict is clear. Is the Fin Com to serve the legislative branch for which it is appointed, or the executive branch, by which it is appointed? The current system lacks the checks and balances that are the cornerstone of the separation of powers.

  • Collins Report: Wayland’s out of line method of appointment was recognized in the Collins Report that is available on the Town’s web site. This report and its recommendations were relied on by the Board of Selectmen to create the town manager form of government that we adopted at last year’s Town Meeting. Realigning the appointment process for the Finance Committee was raised in that report which recommended among its suggestions that the Selectmen should:

 

Contemplate whether the appointing authority of the Finance Committee should remain solely the Board of Selectmen, or whether it should be moved or made into a hybrid appointing authority.

 

       Despite that suggestion made in the 2017 draft and 2018 final report, I don’t think the Selectmen ever seriously                  contemplated that change, until the article at last year’s meeting.

 

  • Practice in other towns: Based on information gathered by the Mass. Moderators Assoc.[2] the Finance Committee is appointed by the Moderator In the vast majority of other towns in the state. This includes all our neighboring towns (Weston, Sudbury, Natick & Concord) as well as all the towns on the Finance Committee’s list of towns that are used for comparison. While no one can say why any individual town has this practice, it seems clear that it is in recognition of the need to separate the executive from the legislative branches of Government. In one exchange at a moderator’s meeting,  I mentioned the Wayland appointment authority to another moderator he looked at me quizzically and asked “how does that work.” He couldn’t understand the practice.

 

  • Evolution to a Town Manager: Based significantly on the Collins Report, the Town has voted to evolve to a town Manger form of administration. Under the plan adopted at the May Town Meeting the manager would among other activities be the designated Chief Financial Officer. Thus, the Selectmen would appoint the CFO, who acts for the Executive Branch, as well as the Finance Committee which is supposed to represent the legislative branch. Do you see the conundrum?  Where is the check and balance?

What would replace the Selectmen as the appointing authority? In most towns it is the Moderator alone who makes the appointments. This is consistent with the separation of the of the respective executive and legislative branches. However, given Wayland’s long-standing practice of appointment by the BOS, it is doubtful politically if this would be acceptable to the Town Meeting. Also, the moderator acting alone, would not have to meet the requirements of the Open Meeting Law even if required to make all appointments in a public way. This is probably not acceptable given modern thinking. Thus, a hybrid appointment panel consisting of the Moderator and the Chair of the BOS was suggested last year. This of course raises the concern of the lack of a tiebreaker[3]. In response to that there are other configurations in other towns that include the Chair of the Fin Com, the past chair of the Fin Com or and individual named by the Town Meeting. While I have included in the proposed article one form of the appointing panel, I anticipate further discussion on that topic. I look forward to public awareness of this article and to further discussion.  

Thank you for reading this. You can be assured you will be hearing more over the next few months.  

 

[1] My personal response to this is that if two of the most prominent and visible members of the town’s government are so obstinate that they cannot come to some compromise solution, then at least one, if not both, should be voted out of office at the next opportunity.

 

[2] https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fmassmoderators.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2FTown-information-Summary-1.xlsx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK

 

[3] A Financial Management Structure Review, Town of Wayland Massachusetts, Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management, February 2018 available on the Town Web site.

 

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