Voters' rights, government checks and balances at heart of Union select board hearing
Union — More than 50 people attended a public hearing Oct. 16 to discuss a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that could change Union's treasurer position from an elected post to one that is appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
The hearing opened with statements from Town Manager Jay Feyler and Select Board Chairman Elmer Savage, who, along with Selectmen Lyle Cramer, James Justice, and Co-Chair Greg Grotton, are in favor of the change.
"This is by far the most important thing these voters, you voters, can do to secure the town's long-term financial security and stability," said Feyler.
If referendum passes it will take effect at the beginning of the next municipal term on July 1, 2013.
The board posted a public statement detailing their opinion of why the treasurer position should be appointed rather than elected. The document was approved 4-1, and is available on Union's town website.
One reason for the change is repeated and significant discrepancies in record-keeping, which is still done by hand rather than by computer. Feyler said that there were 39 pages of unposted journal entries at the time of Treasurer Linda McAllister's recent departure due to medical leave.
"Before the journals were posted it showed I had $228,214 in my public works paving account," Feyler said. "After they were posted it's $89,524."
Savage added that board had previously been given an "erroneous figure" for the town's surplus funds, which turned out to be inaccurate "to the tune of $60,000."
Another stated reason for the proposed change is to allow cross-training within the town office, ensuring that treasurer position can be covered in case of illness or other absence.
Ron Smith of auditing firm RHR Smith & Company also gave a brief speech in response to the company's findings during the 2011 town audit. Smith said that the audit revealed "alarming things" about how the treasurer position is currently run.
RHR Smith & Company's letter to the Board of Selectmen detailing their findings is also available on the Union town website.
Selectman Sara Moore, the lone dissenter on the board, voiced her opinion that the treasurer should continue to be a publicly-elected post.
"Every time I turn around we get one more thing taken away from us that we can't vote for," Moore said. "To me it's just one more little piece being taken away that you, the people of the town of Union are not going to have a say in."
In response to a question regarding whether or not these previous instances of a poor personal relationship between the treasurer and other town officials, Savage said that many minor incidents were brought to him personally as board chairman.
Feyler said on behalf of former 14-year Union Town Manager Andrew Hart, "[He] will admit that he was remiss in bringing that to the public and really telling the board about it."
Hart was not present at the hearing due to a death in the family.
"[McAllister] has done nothing illegal," said Co-Chair Grotton. "It's not the person, it's the position we're talking about."
Community members voiced their trepidation over the fate of McAllister's career with the town as well as the treasurer posts apparent lack of accountability to a direct superior.
Union resident Sybil Wentworth read a prepared statement on McAllister's behalf that alleges the Union Board of Selectmen is using McAllister's health concerns as an opportunity to force her out of the treasurer post.
"The selectmen and town manager have blown the 2011 audit entirely out of proportion and Linda is being made a scapegoat for a variety of issues over which she has little or no control," Wentworth read. "If the town votes to change the treasurer position to an appointed position, Linda will lose her job. The town manager will see to that."
Regarding concerns that McAllister would not be re-appointed annually, Feyler said that such a situation would require a future impropriety to contravene what Feyler called the "expectation of employment."
If the referendum passes, the board says that McAllister will be offered the treasurer position for 2013-2014, and will have several months to think it over. Furthermore, the board added, McAllister will be given a clean slate with regard to any previous incidents of discord in the town office.
"Anything that happened before doesn't count," said Feyler.
Due to a lack of a properly appointed deputy treasurer, the select board appointed Feyler to that post at an emergency meeting on Oct. 12 in order to cover the shortfall created by McAllister's absence.
Feyler subsequently deputized Washington Town Clerk Ann Dean, who is trained in the use of TRiO accounting software.
Despite high tensions on all sides, the audience gave Feyler and the Board of Selectmen a round of applause for their role in orchestrating the hearing.
A warrant dated Oct. 17 was signed and unanimously approved during the brief selectmen's meeting following the hearing.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at email@example.com.