Archive 2008 - 2019

Selectmen and FinCom Going Nowhere With Pay Study

by William Dowd

It’s been months since the topic was even on the Selectmen’s very uncrowded agenda. And the FinCom has only been able to develop additional questions for the Consultant, which don’t get answered either. If you wanted a poster child for government waste on studies and consultants, this would be it.

What’s remarkable is that even though the study is incomplete and contains data inaccuracies, that hasn’t stopped the Chairman of the FinCom, Ken Szajda from declaring, “at least we know the employees aren’t being overpaid”. Talk about premature extrapolation.

The “Final” report received in October was months late, still incomplete and it contained errors. It wasn’t until early December that the FinCom penned a letter to the consultant pointing out several deliverables that had not been received. Two weeks later, there was a meeting of Paul LeBeau, Ken Szajda, and the Consultant. The meeting revealed that yes, there were significant pieces missing. That was December, and here we are in February and the project has completely fallen off the radar.

Here’s a good example of how the FinCom is approaching this issue. FinCom member Charles Kaslow has repeatedly pointed out that the study results do not match up to the RFP for the project. Member Michelle Zeamer then points out that in matters like this, it may not be necessary to keep to the letter of the RFP as long as there was “substantial conformance” to the specs. I hope that’s not how we enforce construction contracts.

Here’s one of the big problems: Nobody’s in charge. The study was “jointly sponsored” by the FinCom and the Selectmen. That’s a recipe for interminable pauses while one party waits for the other to do something. Even still, the FinCom’s mantra is “we’re only an advise and consent” board. So even if the study was complete, the FinCom has neither the authority nor any intention of making any decisions. The two-decision making authorities – Selectmen and School Committee – have yet to even discuss an action plan even on the parts of the study they have received.

I’m sure some will say that I’m being too hard on these volunteers, that they’re doing the best they can on a part time basis. Well, if this is the best we can do with the current structure of government, it’s clearly time for a new one.

For those who have a hard time finding my suggestions and solutions, here they come:

1.    The Board of Selectmen and School Committee should immediately task the Superintendent and Town Administrator to prepare an implementation plan. In the world outside government, that’s how a “study” is managed. When the report is in, a plan is devised. The plan deals with the following: a.)Which recommendations will be advanced and why. b.) Which recommendations will be discarded and why. c.) The cost or savings associated with the implementation of each recommendation, if any. d.) The naming of a responsible person for each recommendation to be implemented. e.) The establishment of a timeline for implementation. f.) The creation of a checklist for both the recommendations and the due dates.

2.    The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee make the project an item on their agenda at every other meeting for updates on progress and a check-in on adherence to the timeline.

3.    Town Meeting, which authorized the $30,000 in the first place, should receive an update on progress each time it meets. Since this topic touches over 2/3rds of the entire Town budget, surely it deserves at least as much time and attention as other articles dealing with much smaller amounts of money. Article 1 on every Annual Town Meeting warrant is to hear the report of the Selectmen. For at least the last few years, there was no report. It’s time to step up and give Town Meeting a substantive report from the Town’s chief executives. Remaining silent on that article is like the Chairman of the Board of a public corporation remaining silent at its annual meeting.

Historically, nobody wants to talk about pay and benefits. The less said the better. Union contracts get negotiated in secret and neither the Selectmen nor the School Committee are ever required to explain the terms of agreement – not even to the FinCom. And these topics are undoubtedly difficult. Elected officials are dealing with things that affect hundreds of people working for the Town and Schools. Reducing benefits will never be popular with employees. Increasing pay or benefits costs will rarely be popular with taxpayers. But that’s why the study was commissioned in the first place: to give Town officials a factual and professional basis to proceed. Getting the report and doing nothing with it is a huge cop-out.

In household terms, action on the budget is often a long discussion about how much to deduct from the newspaper bill for a missed delivery while drafty windows that waste energy, and a leaky roof that damages the structure are glossed over.

If taxpayers are to get a fair deal for the thousands in annual property taxes most pay, we’ve got to get a lot more focused on the major cost drivers in our budget – pay and benefits. Doing right by the $30,000 compensation and benefits study would be a great start.


Comments (5)

So, has the town paid for this incomplete study in full? Can you really blame taxpayers for thinking that our hard-earned cash is being frittered away on useless studies that lead to nowhere?

Just Another Observer | 2013-02-10 15:27:30

"Substantial performance" is a legal term. It is the subject of hundreds of years of case law and treatises. Legal scholars debate what constitutes "substantial performance" in various circumstances. I merely brought it up to make the point that if Stone had substantially performed the terms of the contract, whether or not they had met every single criterion, we would have to pay them. I made a point at the meeting, of stating that I am not a municipal procurement specialist and did not know if the contract had been substantially performed. If it were easy to determine "substantial performance" the matter would not be the subject of frequent and costly litigation throughout the country.

Michelle Zeamer | 2013-02-10 08:51:56

So, would the town just let it go if I performed substantially and only paid 85% of my real estate tax bill?

Just Another Observer | 2013-02-10 08:25:32

I would like to correct something that was attributed to me since I was misquoted and taken out of context. I never said, "substantial conformance," but rather "substantial performance." It was during a discussion of whether or not we should withhold the final payment to Stone Consulting. I had asked Paul LeBeau whether or not we had legal cause to withhold that payment. I am an attorney and did not want to leave the town open to any legal actions if we did not have cause. At no time did I say anything that could even be remotely construed to mean that Stone did not need to "keep to the letter of the RFP."

Michelle Zeamer | 2013-02-10 05:52:28

Thanks for the update!

chris | 2013-02-10 05:02:01