Updated 5 pm
Tuesday evening Chilmark’s select board and town administrator interviewed candidates for the position of town treasurer. The board intended to make a conditional offer Wednesday afternoon but decided to punt until Dec. 28 when another round of interviews of the same candidates will take place pending candidate availability. The vacancy has come about because longtime treasurer Melanie Becker has opted to retire. In November the select board announced it intended to change the town treasurer position from elected to appointed, and on Tuesday the board was poised to do just that, having narrowed a larger pool of applicants down to three people.
Largely through town administrator Tim Carroll, the board posed questions to Sherry Sibley, an account operations associate at a Vineyard bank, West Tisbury principal assessor Dawn Barnes, and R.M. Packer controller Julie Menton.
Barnes told the board she was a former lead teller and a former treasurer’s clerk for the town of Longmeadow.
“I have been in a town hall environment for 30 years,” Barnes said. “I have come from the lowest clerk in my current field. I rose through the ranks all the way up to an elected official. I held an elected position for two terms in Wilbraham, and finished those terms right before I came here.”
In West Tisbury, Barnes described herself as a department head who is a member of the town’s financial team.
Sibley said she was previously a teller and ascended to bank operations. “I think both roles have prepared me in becoming eligible for the town treasurer position,” Sibley said, “in that as a teller I’ve been exposed to cash handling first and foremost, which is important because as the treasurer you are the cash manager, pretty much. Also, savings bonds, I’ve been exposed to those.”
In operations, Sibley said, her job includes business analysis to minimize risks to the bank.
“I’ve had over 25 years of accounting experience,” Menton said. Menton said she previously worked at two manufacturing companies, a law firm, and a bookkeeper.
“I’m responsible for 17 bank statements,” Menton said. “I’m responsible for balances for cash flow, for daily reporting. I have to make sure vendors are paid when due.”
Menton went on to say she manages short-term and long-term disability, seasonal and year-round payroll, and health insurance.
When asked if offered the position what her biggest challenge would be, and what specific support she might need from the town, Sibley said “becoming familiar” with how Chilmark functions and working in a “completely different setting” encompassed the biggest challenges. Sibley expected she would want Becker to help her transition into the role. “Once I get the foundation of how things are done, then I’ll be able to quickly take on her tasks and efficiently and effectively perform those tasks,” Sibley said.
“I’m very interested in becoming accredited for the position,” Barnes said in answer to the same question. Based on her experience looking for classes to maintain her accreditation as an assessor, Barnes said she believed the pandemic likely has diminished the availability of classes needed to achieve accreditation as a treasurer, so finding that education might prove a challenge. Like Sibley, Barnes said she would want as much of a tutorial as she could get from Becker before she departs town hall.
“The biggest challenge would be learning the new software, because I [used] other software my whole life,” Menton said. “It is something I could do, but it is something I would have to take on.” Menton said she would like help in learning new software.
When asked by select board member Warren Doty how she thought she could handle working with municipal bonds, Menton said she had already read up on bonding and understood the basics, and working with a broker is necessary to acquire bonds.
“It is something I would definitely need to be educated on,” Barnes said in response to a similar question. “I’ve started to do a little bit of research when looking at this position, seeing what the responsibilities were. I’ve been reading through the Division of Local Services informational guidelines that are out there for borrowing, and familiarizing myself with those types of functions …”
Town accountant Ellen Biskis told the board one of the subjects she is most interested in learning about from the candidates was their payroll experience.
Sibley said many Island businesses run their payrolls through a platform offered by the bank she works for: “I’m the person they call if they have an issue — if there’s a correction that needs to get done.” Silbey also said she sets up payroll accounts.
When asked what was the biggest mistake she made on the job, and what she learned from it, Sibley said almost sending what turned out to be a bogus wire transfer.
“When I do payroll, I want to do it right because it’s people’s money,” Menton said. “An employee came to me, and I was defensive about processing his pay, correctly or incorrectly, and he owed back taxes and was just trying to communicate with me how to get through the situation. So rather than me [being] defensive [on] whether I did it right or wrong, I needed to listen to what he needed from me.”
On the same question, Sibley and Barnes both pointed to banking issues.
“When I was pretty new to account operations, there was a wire out — I wasn’t so sure about it … logically it didn’t quite make sense,” Sibley said. Sibley said she sent the wire, or partially sent the wire but later was able to retrieve it. She described the wire as “kind of fraudulent,” and the incident as “one of her biggest failures.”
One holiday season when she was a lead teller, Barnes said, she ordered money for the bank but had neglected to provide an armored car company a foreign currency order slip.
“It was very crucial that that order be made because in that community, other than our main branch, that branch was the only branch that held foreign currency, and it was about to be Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s.”
At 4pm Wednesday, the select board convened and opted not to make a choice yet on the next treasurer.
“I think we thought this is a really important job for us and to be doing it based on one Zoom interview seemed quite short to us…,” Doty said. Doty suggested postponing the decision and reinterviewing the candidates. Select board member Bill Rossi agreed and also said all three were “really good candidates”. Carroll asked the board to send him additional questions to pose to the candidates. Doty said through more questions the board needed to “drill down a little bit” with less general questions.
In other business, Rossi told the board a boulder that has proved problematic to the new fire station project is slated for removal. Rossi said the town was able to find someone “who lives on the Island who has been removing or cutting ledge and boulders for state highways and things like that for years.” The boulder has been removed from the fire station and TriTown Ambulance facility bid process, he said, because with union labor it was too much of a “wild card” line item.
“So essentially, for $6,000, that boulder will be removed,” he said. “It will be removed two feet below grade level.”
Doty, who participated in the meeting remotely from Vermont and was eager to see the boulder taken apart said,
“I’m going to miss cutting up that boulder. I can’t believe it.”
On Wednesday Rossi said the boulder job wasn’t yet finished and work would continue Thursday.
Updated with additional news about the treasurer selection process and boulder removal project.