To the Editor:
As publicly evidenced by the recent chaotic Aquinnah annual town meeting on May 10, there is a glaring need for a town finance committee to provide financial insight and ongoing oversight to the town.
Without a request-for-proposals process or published specifications for a (needed) new fire truck pumper, the town approved a $450,000 expenditure. Was there thorough advance due diligence? With only 8,600 miles on the garaged 21-year-old vehicle with obsolete pumper parts, was there an investigation into the fully reconditioned pumper-vehicle resale market?
There are a variety of current models that are refurbished that come with a full five-year warranty for engine, drive train, undercarriage, and system hydraulics.They are about half the cost of a brand-new one. Perhaps town Fire Chief Bolin investigated this option, but wouldn’t it have been nice for him to have had some assistance and oversight into this large capital expenditure? And why would the town have $26,000 in the new fiscal budget for a [FinCom] committee that does not even exist today?
The town administrator proposed no less than 16 up-or-down amendments to the fiscal-year budget for meeting floor vote. Among other things, this calamity created budget “preparation” doubt, general voter confusion, and a terrible waste of valuable town meeting time.A finance committee could have eliminated the above concerns/issues, and brought clarity to many others.
To hear moderator Mike Hebert say, as he did in a recent interview, that there are no “qualified” FinCom committee applicants is disappointing. Where is the requisite outline of qualifications? In a sawdust-filled desk drawer, maybe? And we don’t have to have people with an exclusively financial background on this committee. In fact, it is desirable to have a range of businesspeople, accounting (preferably a CPA or business auditor), and perhaps even (retired?) legal minds. You say they can’t be found? I bet they can. You likely haven’t looked deep enough into the town’s resident resources. We have some outstanding people in our town.
Maybe selectman Jim Newman’s comments about the “nature of Aquinnah” having a difficult time finding people is a byproduct of age-old voter apathy resulting from unintended secrecy. Meetings are held, and other than attendees, nobody can get details of what transpired. There is no vehicle for transparency here — people feel they are in the dark.
A good start to change this and promote involvement would be to have a real community-oriented and timely news website. Up-to-date meeting minutes from BOS and committees are never published. Why is that? Committee member solicitation, qualification postings, meeting minutes, and news promote citizen involvement.
Timely information on the town website and a little promotion can go a long way toward creating community participation and involvement. If the hue and cry is, We don’t have it in our budget, then why not reach out to an IT-oriented student at MVRHS who would like to intern and learn about community workings? He or she could update and prepost timely website items (meeting minutes, community events, etc.) after editing by department heads.
A FinCom committee must be voted in, not appointed, and should ideally be largely independent-thinking professionals with the ability and authority, when needed, to step in and challenge all financial facets of the town. Members might come from diverse solid professional backgrounds. Communication must be thoughtful to and with all concerned, and to keep honesty and objectivity, members must not have any direct ties to any town committees or town administrative staff.
Aquinnah is a truly great place to live, but we need to catch up on some needed changes in our town government and the way we do things.