Your View (site blog, not mine personally)

Your View is the place for opinion at YourArlington.com. It is the site's only blog. Please submit your opinions to be considered for publication on this site. The best opinions are those supported by facts. You cannot expect to be published if your views lack factual support or if you make personal attacks. For your views to be published, your full, real name is required.
6 minutes reading time (1266 words)

Two views: against appointment and in favor

The following opinion was written by Mark Rosenthal, an Arlington voter:

Treasurer 2018 -- elect or appoint?

This week's town election will include a question about changing the position of Town Treasurer from an elected position to an appointed position.  Recent town history provides a powerful argument against changing it to an appointed position.  We've paid a steep price because someone who was appointed to a similarly high Town position manifestly lacked the ability to do the jobs she was hired for.  And in spite of that the Board of Selectmen allowed her to stay on from 2001 to 2015. 

In the early 2000s, Arlington's website was functioning well, at least from the perspective of its end users - i.e. the citizens of Arlington.  But sometime around 2002 or 2003, the Board of Selectmen hired a new person into the dual positions of Comptroller and Coordinator of Data Processing.  I never understood why anyone thought it made sense to combine those two roles into one job, but apparently the Board of Selectmen thought it made sense.

Instead of following the sensible practice of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" the new Data Processing Coordinator quickly decided to "fix" how the town's website was developed and maintained.  She maneuvered to replace the person who'd successfully developed and maintained the Town website thus far.


Anyone who knows anything about Arlington knows that we've got an unusually high concentration of software experts in town.  I myself am one of them.  But it never occurred to the Data Processing Coordinator to reach out to town residents for advice.  The Webmaster job requirements she wrote made it seem more like she was employed by Microsoft than by the Town of Arlington.

Around that time, I attended a meeting on the issue.  It was held in the Selectmen's Office, and the room so packed there was barely space for everybody to fit.  When I tried to ask questions of the Data Processing Coordinator in that meeting, her responses demonstrated to me a total lack of technical expertise.  Lending support to my impression, it later came out that she hadn't actually written the Webmaster job description she'd put out.  She'd simply copied the Webmaster requirements from the Town of Brookline.  And with confidence born of ignorance, she disregarded everything the town's software expert citizens had to say, and went ahead and hired a new webmaster who turned out to be so bad that he had to be fired within 2 months.

After that mess, I heard that the Board of Selectmen had removed her from the position of Data Processing Coordinator, but they left her in the position of Comptroller.  But even though she was only performing one of the two roles she was hired into, to the best of my knowledge she continued at the same pay level she'd been offered when she was hired into the dual roles.

If the Board of Selectmen had taken their cue from that fiasco, they'd have spared the town a major financial mess a few years later.  The job responsibilities of Arlington's Comptroller are: "The Comptroller has fiscal and general management responsibilities developing and maintaining financial records and controlling cash flow of all town funds, preparing and reviewing budgetary materials, exercising budget control ..."*

"Preparing and reviewing budgetary materials" and "exercising budget control" - hmmmmmmm.  In September of 2010, an auditing firm hired by Arlington discovered that the school system had a $1.5 million deficit!  The Advocate reported that the Comptroller "said she did not notice the $1.5 million difference before Powers & Sullivan pointed it out to her because she was also responsible for balancing the budget for the rest of the town at the same time and the figure slipped by her."

So, the Board of Selectmen hired a Data Processing Coordinator and Comptroller, and when they learned that she knew nothing about Data Processing, they busted her back to Comptroller.  Then when they learned that she also couldn't count, they left her in the position of Comptroller for another 5 years!  If her positions had been elected instead of appointed, at least we could have gotten rid of her at the next election.

You've got to wonder why in the world the Board of Selectmen chose to hire this person in the first place.

It's clear to me that the members of Town government who are charged with ousting screw-ups in high Town positions don't have the will to do it.  So it's imperative that that power be retained by Arlington's citizens.  The position of Treasurer must remain an elected position.

*Note: I was unable to find an early 2000s job definition for the position of Comptroller, but since Arlington's currently seeking another Comptroller, I copied this from the current position advertisement at https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/comptroller-at-town-of-arlington-533380085.  It seems unlikely that what a Comptroller does has changed in any significant way.


This letter was published Wednesday, April 4, 2018.


Why I am voting to support an appointed treasurer

Paul Schlichtman, a member of the School Committee, offers his view of the treasurer ballot question as an Arlington voter:

I am voting yes on the ballot question.

As it currently stands, the qualifications to become town treasurer includes:

Must be a registered voter in the Town of Arlington;

Must be able to convince a plurality of voters to elect him/her.

Do we get the best possible treasurer? Probably not, though the folks we have elected have been competent department heads.

Before Dean Carman was elected as our treasurer (on a platform of converting the treasurer to an appointed position), the previous two treasurers were former selectmen. They moved into a relatively high-paying position because they were able to convince voters who have elected them to another office to vote for them again as treasurer and receiver of taxes.

During this time, Arlington had a very skilled assistant town treasurer, who filled in as acting treasurer when the office was vacant. We couldn't promote him to the top position. Even though he is skilled at winning a municipal election, Fred Fantini was a member of the Cambridge School Committee, and as a Cambridge resident, he was unable to move to the top job.

The Board of Selectmen is the elected administrative board of the town. They choose and supervise a town manager, who is charged with running the town. We don't elect the Town Manager, even though his role would be consistent with a mayor in a medium-size city. This is a good thing, because we have an excellent town manager who was not a resident of Arlington when he was selected to fill this position. 

If we don't elect the top position, it makes no sense to elect someone whose function logically falls under the manager. The current situation is even more problematic, as the elected treasurer is not accountable in the administrative structure of the town, and could blatantly subvert the work of the manager and his financial staff.

We are a town with a city sized budget, and city sized complexity. As a town, we have a representative Town Meeting acting as our legislative branch, adopting the budget, passing bylaws, setting policy. The selectmen are administrators, implementing the policy decisions of our Town Meeting. The treasurer belongs in the administrative branch, underneath the manager, who is held accountable for the action of town employees.

Our next town treasurer should be an employee of the town, the most qualified candidate regardless of residency, selected by a town manager who is responsible for the office. A yes vote gets us there.


This letter was published Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

Comments

Guest - Jo Anne Preston on Thursday, 05 April 2018 17:31
More reasons not to move to an appointed treasurer

i just research the conditions of employment for another Arlington head of a department. I was told three was no search, national, regional, or in within Arlington. His was "an internal promotion" to replace his father who had just retired from the position.
Was he the best person for the job? We will never know because there was no search as far as I can determine.
Since assuming this position he has evaluation done by the town manager with no effort to garner public input.
Is this what we want to happen in the selections and evaluation of the town treasurer?

Those who believe we will hire the best person for the job through appointment are sadly mistaken.

i just research the conditions of employment for another Arlington head of a department. I was told three was no search, national, regional, or in within Arlington. His was "an internal promotion" to replace his father who had just retired from the position. Was he the best person for the job? We will never know because there was no search as far as I can determine. Since assuming this position he has evaluation done by the town manager with no effort to garner public input. Is this what we want to happen in the selections and evaluation of the town treasurer? Those who believe we will hire the best person for the job through appointment are sadly mistaken.
Mark Rosenthal on Thursday, 05 April 2018 13:49
An Additional Reason Not To Remove The Citizens' Right To Elect The Town Treasurer

The other day, I wrote an editorial arguing against converting the position of Town Treasurer from an elected position to an appointed one. I have just learned additional information that strongly reinforces my conviction that we should not convert that position.

It turns out that state law originally required towns to make that position elected, and several other positions as well. In order to give towns the power to change elected positions to appointed positions, the Mass. Legislature enacted MGL Ch 41, Sec 1B. I have just read that section of the Mass. General Laws, and it's written to allow towns to convert positions in one direction only: from elected to appointed. So, if after converting the position from elected to appointed, the town's citizens should decide that that was a mistake, my reading of MGL Ch 41, Sec 1B is that state law would prevent us from converting the position back to an elected position.

I urge the voters to think long and hard about relinquishing any right that, once relinquished, we can never get back!

The other day, I wrote an [url=https://www.yourarlington.com/easyblog/entry/70-letters/2462-treasurer-040318.html]editorial[/url] arguing against converting the position of Town Treasurer from an elected position to an appointed one. I have just learned additional information that strongly reinforces my conviction that we should not convert that position. It turns out that state law originally required towns to make that position elected, and several other positions as well. In order to give towns the power to change elected positions to appointed positions, the Mass. Legislature enacted MGL Ch 41, Sec 1B. I have just read that section of the Mass. General Laws, and it's written to allow towns to convert positions in one direction only: from elected to appointed. So, if after converting the position from elected to appointed, the town's citizens should decide that that was a mistake, my reading of MGL Ch 41, Sec 1B is that state law would prevent us from converting the position back to an elected position. I urge the voters to think long and hard about relinquishing any right that, once relinquished, we can never get back!
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Thursday, 19 May 2022
If you'd like to register, please fill in the username, password and name fields.

Captcha Image

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.yourarlington.com/

YOUR VIEW: Opinions: MBTA, Roe, Alewife, racism, film, Ukraine, letters, poetry

Your Businesses

Latest comments

John Yurewicz Alewife Brook sewage campaign: Support from Ellen Mass
05 March 2022
The Thorndike Place apartment and pavement construction will re-direct natural underground aquifers ...
Bob Sprague Letters: Emailing Advocate? Copy it here. Roe v. Wade?
17 January 2022
Let the public know with a letter to the editor. For details, see https://www.yourarlington.com/easy...

Housing Authority

Your People

Lt. Dan Kelly

Retired Arlington police lieutenant dies at 58

Lt. Dan Kelly Lt. Dan Kelly, a retired member of the Arlington Police Department, died Tuesday, May 3, after fighting cancer for several years, Chief Julie Flaherty said in a report by YourArlington partner Patch. Kelly, 58, served 32 years as a decorated member of the Arlington Police Department.…
Sulinha Boucher, 2022

Younger than 5: 4th album for Arlington musician

Sulinha Boucher “We Should Be Kind." Listen to it here >> Sulinha Boucher, an Arlington musician for 30 years who is originally from Brazil, has recorded her fourth album for children, “We Should Be Kind." Perhaps you have heard her at the Robbins and Fox libraries, where she has performed for the…
Tony and Jeff Whittemore head for Montreal.

Film premieres pony tale: When 2 boys went to Montreal

Tony and Jeff Whittemore head for Montreal. / 1967 family photo UPDATED April 29: In 1967 two young boys and their beloved pony took off on a monthlong adventure that brought them fame, fun and a wealth of great stories. Tony Whittemore, 11 at the time, and his brother Jeff, 9, drove a pony cart…






FACEBOOK BOX: To see all images, click the PHOTOS link just below

 



Support YourArlington

An informed Arlington
keeps democracy alive

Donate Button

YourArlington is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Your contributions are tax-deductible.

Wednesday Newsletter

Your Arts

Your Police, Fire

Development

Site Partners

Patch header

Arlington Patch

Arlington Patch has been reporting about the town since 2010. The national site with local outlets…