Archive 2008 - 2019

The Lost Power of “Why?”

by William Dowd

And I think I’ve figured out why that is – they don’t want to have to answer any “why?” questions themselves. I’ve asked a whole lot of “why?” questions and get no answers. Under the law, public officials are required to answer “what?” questions and produce documents they work on, but the law does not require anyone to answer “why?” questions, and so they just don’t.

But “why?” questions are very powerful. They get at the reasons for what we’re doing. They get at the rationale for official action. At work, we’re asked “why?” and expected to explain our proposals and actions all the time. Elected officials should be no different. It may not be comfortable to answer “why?” questions, but if we keep letting these guys off the hook, they’ll be convinced that they don’t have to explain anything to us. That’s wrong.

Here’s a collection of “why?” questions some of which I’ve been waiting months for an answer.

1.    Why is the Town overpaying for health insurance? Just in case someone tries the old “West Suburban Health Group makes us” approach, here’s the follow-up: Why is it OK with the Board of Selectmen that the WSHG does this?
2.    Why is the Town a party to a one-sided financial arrangement with West Suburban Health Group that holds the Town accountable for deficits, but forfeits surpluses?
3.    Why hasn’t anything been done to correct the significant financial reporting deficiency disclosed in the WSHG audit?
4.    Why hasn’t the FinCom even discussed any of these huge financial issues involving the WSHG?
5.    Why are taxpayers subsidizing the operation of the Ambulance? Why aren’t all the legitimate costs of running the Ambulance allocated to that budget?
6.    Why aren’t the Ambulance fees sufficient to cover the cost of replacing obsolete ambulance vehicles?
7.    Why hasn’t the Board of Selectmen taken any official action to push for the Governor’s proposed reforms of retiree health insurance eligibility rules that, if adopted, would save Holliston taxpayers millions of dollars?
8.    Why is the School Department scrounging for a number of relatively small ticket items while the FinCom’s master “spreadsheet” contains a $1.5 million line item for retiree health insurance that nearly doubles that budget to fund a benefit plan that has been repeatedly demonstrated to be excessive and unsustainable?
9.    Why isn’t that $1.5 million for retiree health insurance reflected in the Benefits budget?
10.    Why does the Town’s approach to adding staff only budget for payroll dollars when benefits are 20% to 40% in additional cost?
11.    Why is it OK with the Finance Committee that the Benefits budget it received was both inconsistent with stated cost trends, and improperly compared before and after allocation budget amounts?
12.    Why are allocations of benefit costs to Water and Ambulance changing so drastically?
13.    Why has the Board of Selectmen dropped completely the formerly high priority project of simplifying resident and business interaction with Holliston permitting agencies and committees as urged by the Economic Development Commission?
14.    Why does it take months for the Selectmen and FinCom to post complete minutes of their meetings?
15.    Why doesn’t the Board of Selectmen provide residents with regular updates on its work?
16.    Why doesn’t the FinCom provide residents with regular updates on its work?
17.    Why is the Compensation and Benefits study still not complete, nearly three years after it’s authorization?
18.    Why haven’t the Selectmen, FinCom and School Committee had even one joint meeting on the Compensation and Benefits study?
19.    Why hasn’t the Board of Selectmen provided any updates on the proposed public works union organizing campaign?
20.    Why, after at least 5 years of known major water pipeline replacement needs, do we still not have a plan for addressing it?
21.    Why does the Town maintain a huge Capital Expenditure Fund but generally, only spend the annual appropriation to it?
22.    Why does the FinCom view the annual “Free Cash” certification as simply a supplemental source for spending instead of property tax relief?
23.    Why are there so many “revolving accounts” and other off budget revenue streams that mask the real and total cost of a department’s operation in the Omnibus budget?
24.    Why does the FinCom insist on describing its role as only “advise and consent” when it’s responsibilities include Reserve Fund Transfers and Line Item Transfers, both of which result in the expenditure of funds beyond that which was authorized by Town Meeting?
25.    Why does the annual FinCom budget guideline assume an automatic 2.5% increase in the property tax levy?
26.    Why does the annual FinCom budget guideline assign the same “guideline” budget increase to all departments without regard to actual funding requirements? Isn’t the whole purpose of the FinCom to be the only place where the Town’s finances are analyzed “horizontally” across all departments? How does starting out saying a “1.5% budget increase is just fine with us” for all departments before any prioritization or rationalization across all needs has been undertaken advance wise and prudent spending?
27.    Why did the Selectmen hastily and sloppily create a Community Center Task Force with so many facility needs out there?
28.    Why haven’t we heard a word about this Task Force in the months since it was created?

It’s possible that none of these questions bother you all that much. According to the Selectmen and FinCom, residents are generally happy with how the Town is run and the taxes charged to support it. Maybe the potential casino is your issue, or gun laws, or something else. I’m a candidate for FinCom and I’m determined to do two things; 1.) ask a lot more “why?” questions, and 2.) if elected, answer the “why?” questions – even if the answer hurts. Holliston is a great community. Its Town government is simply not living up to the standards that residents deserve. I hope to change that.

Editors Note: The Holliston Reporter does not endorse nor oppose candidates for public office. Any opinions in our comments section are those of the writer.