Letter: Vote ‘No’ on Question Three

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To Editor, New Canaanite:

As a member of the Charter Revision Commission, I voted against recommending removal of the first selectman from continuation as the chairman of the Board of Finance and the elimination of the requirement that Board of Finance members be New Canaan “taxpayers”.

I recommend a ‘No’ vote on question #3:

  • Shall the current Charter be changed so that the First Selectman, although remaining an ex-officio member of the Board of Finance, will no longer serve as Chairman of the Board of Finance, and the Board of Finance will choose its Chairman from its regular members?

If the proposed change is approved, the appointed Board of Finance will be totally unaccountable to the voters of New Canaan.

The present requirement that the first selectman serve as chairman of the Board of Finance without vote except in the case of a tie, originated in the 1935 Charter of the town of New Canaan. The argument that after 80 years of fiscally responsible government there is now a need for an additional check to balance the power of the Board of Selectmen evidences a misunderstanding of the responsibilities of the town’s governing bodies. It ignores the purpose of the Board of Finance as the town’s financial adviser and the role of the Town Council as the town’s final check and balance on the power of the Board of Selectmen and the budget.

The first selectman is the most knowledgeable person on the town’s issues. The first selectman devotes full time to the responsibilities of the office and the needs of the town. Board of Finance members are not concerned 24/7 with the operations of the town as is the First Selectman. The uncompensated, volunteer members of the Board of Finance, while knowledgeable on the town’s issues, are appointed by the Board of Selectmen based on their expertise in financial, business and legal affairs to advise on financial matters. They are expected to exercise their expertise in the best interests of the town by monitoring all boards, commissions, committees and officer’s financial activities and recommending annual appropriations, bond issues, establishing the tax mil rates.

Removing the first selectman from the chairman role would create a totally independent fourth center of power that would not be accountable to the voters. The Board of Finance would compete as an equal with the elected Board of Education, the elected Town Council and the elected Board of Selectmen on fiscal decisions. Yet it would have no responsibility to answer for its actions to the town’s voters.

Contrary to the expressed goal of creating additional checks and balances, I believe removing the first selectman from chairmanship will create a rogue body totally indifferent to the needs and wishes of the voters.

I urge all voters to vote ‘No’ on Question #3.

Russell Kimes [Sr.]

Charter Revision Commission, member

3 thoughts on “Letter: Vote ‘No’ on Question Three

  1. Wow Mr. Kimes… interesting thoughts which I’m sure you presented to the Charter Revision Commission when you all were discussing the chairmanship of the Board of Finance. Also interesting that you state you were the only member voting against the change. What did the others see that you didn’t?
    Having watched a number of Board of Finance meetings I observe that they aren’t just “advisory” as you assert… I see them make some pretty definite decisions which require spending funds. Don’t know if all of them go to the Town Council. I’ll give you an example — authorizing spending funds to deal with the Outback “situation” — I viewed them as being quick on the draw on that one and then no discussion of funds when the Town Council met. just advisory?
    And you say the Board of Finance with an elected chairman would “not be accountable to the voters”. If you think about it– they are appointed now. Does that mean they aren’t accountable to the voters? If they aren’t through the process (you state the Town Council elected, is the final check and balance on power), then perhaps you should have recommended an elected Board of Finance like all of our neighbors have. Somehow they seem to work having a “fourth center of power” as you insinuate would be unmanageable.
    You mention of 80 years history with the current system — are you saying that there’s no room to look at what we do and make sure it’s the best it can be? we could use a little of this in DC.

  2. EVERY member of every Town body – whether elected or appointed – raises their right hand and takes the SAME oath of office – that means they are accountable to all citizens, voters and taxpayers. Among others, the Police, Fire, Planning and Zoning, Health and Human Services, Park and Rec Commissions, the Audit Committee and even the Charter Revision Commission consists of appointed members who are each – and collectively – are accountable to the voters.

    Let there be no mistake – the Board of Finance – with an independent chairman – would ALWAYS be accountable to the voters and our entire community and not solely to the First Selectman. Just like every other board or commission – each of us who serve are committed to the needs and wishes of our voters.

    It is a privilege and honor to do so.

  3. Firstly Attorney Kimes and all members of the Revision Committee erred in allowing the First Selectman to continue to appoint all members of the Board of Finance. A recommended appointment has always been approved by the Town Council in the 80 years under the current system. Thus appointment of BOF members is dictated by the Office of the First Selectman. The APPOINTED members of the BOF are beholden to the First Selectman NOT the taxpayer electorate. The fix was to have the BOF elected. All surrounding towns have an elected BOF. That revision would have created an independent BOF not beholden to the wishes of the Office of the First Selectman ( a study of past BOF decisions will verify the validity of this statement) . Under such scenario it would be prudent to have the FS remain as Chair of the BOF. Proper segregation of duties and internal control would be established.
    However since the BOF will remain an appointed Legislative function controlled by the Executive branch the Town’s Executive (First Selectman) cannot chair this legislative body. There will be no internal control, segregation of duty or proper checks and balances which are mandatory for the proper functionality of municipal government and best practices. Recent past spending policies and the large annual tax increases which affect not only real estate tax but town car tax and town business property tax are evidence that the current system represents the needs of government and not the taxpaying citizens of New Canaan.
    New Canaan must get in sync with proper best practices to protect the electorate with a annual budget that has grown to over $150,000,000 over the last 80 years when the current system was created. Change is mandatory.
    Additionally the 5th amendment must be implemented into the town charter. It is absurd to have a member of the BOF who does not pay Town Taxes and thus no skin in the game. I find it troubling that a BOF member can vote on a town tax increase when such increase will have no affect on he or she.

    Roy A Abramowitz CPA
    Member Firm Public Company Accounting Oversight Board
    Firm Quality Reviewed by the National Peer Review Section of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

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