Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Milton Town Treasurer Endorsement

For the first time in many years Milton voters will be selecting a new Town Treasurer. Running for the office being vacated by the retiring Kevin Sorgi are Janet Lorden, James McAuliffe and Charlie McCarthy.

Perhaps due to the long interval since this office was contested there seems to be a great deal of confusion about the position, its duties and responsibilities, and the types of experience best suited to the job. I’ve heard residents talk about the need for accounting experience, sophisticated investment background, and “knowledge of finance". Some people go so far as to describe what amounts to a Chief Financial Officer position.

In part the confusion emanates from the specific experience being emphasized by two of the candidates, Janet Lorden and James McAuliffe. Because their backgrounds are in finance/accounting, which they understandably tout, many voters assume that these skills are central to the function of Town Treasurer. That is not the case.

In Milton, as in most towns, financial responsibility is decentralized. Budgeting is the domain of the Finance Committee (Warrant Committee), with final approval by Town Meeting. The books are kept by the Town Accountant, who reports to the Board of Selectman through the Town Administrator. We have outside auditors who go over the books, and a bond consultant to advise on debt issuance.

The treasurer/collector (occasionally separate functions in some communities) is an operational department head. The duties include:

The billing and collection of all town taxes
The timely deposit of all collected funds
The investment of funds not needed immediately in highly safe instruments, emphasizing safety and liquidity over yield
The management of payroll and employee benefits plans
The issuance of short and long term borrowing

While there is certainly a great deal of record keeping involved, accounting is not a function of the department. The investing function is properly circumscribed by state law to ensure safety of the funds. A community, especially in these economic times, cannot be chasing high returns. If we wished to do that, we’d turn the function over to someone like Fidelity.

One unstated, but widely agreed function of the job is that of “independent watchdog”. As an independently elected town officer, the treasurer has the ability to sound the alarm without fear of job loss if he or she feels the town’s interests are being jeopardized. Consequently, the office holder should be someone the residents know and trust. Someone who has a track record of service to the town. Someone who has exhibited a concern for the community apart from any considerations of a paying job.

I believe that person is Charlie McCarthy. Jim McAuliffe and Janet Lorden are good citizens of Milton with fine backgrounds. But they seem to be running for a position that does not exist. Charlie McCarthy, on the other hands, has attributes for this job his opponents simply do not.

Consider this experience. He’s led the preparation of three town budgets. He knows more about where the money comes from and where it goes. As Selectman, he shared the ultimate role in the issuance of town debt, and worked with the current Town Treasurer and Town Accountant to prepare presentations to the bond rating agencies. Their success in obtaining an improved rating lowered substantially debt costs to the town. He had a key role in both the school building and Council on Aging building projects. He knows the functions of those departments and consultants (Selectman, Assessor, Accountant and Bond Consultant) the Treasurer works with to carry out the office’s responsibilities. And he’s run his own business, including meeting a payroll and managing staff.

If you really want a good sense for which of the candidates has the strongest grasp of the job and the specific experience appropriate to it, spend a short time viewing the Milton League of Women Voters debate and the Milton Cable debate here:

Also, check out the interview with Charlie at the blog, an excellent resource for Milton news.

I suspect you'll do as I will, and vote for Charlie McCarthy on April 28th.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, Philip!!!!!!!!!

Joseph Patrick O'Malley

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Judy White-Orlando said...

Charlie McCarthy has the most experience with town government, warrant committee, budgets and the knowledge of how the town works and what goals need to be set and met. He will be ready on day one.

I am voting for Charlie McCarthy

6:53 PM  

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