DOR tells Cohasset Governance a thing or two..or three

 Governance’s meeting with the Department of Revenue  (DOR) at the committee’s early morning Thursday meeting was informative and instructive. More fun is in the offing…former selectwoman Ronnie McMorris said she would ask to be appointed to Governance in January.  

DOR is in town this week doing a financial management review of Cohasset, the first ever requested (former selectman Karen Quigley initiated the review. Likewise, former town manager Mike Coughlin suggested in an unleashed blog that Governance meet with the DOR with regard to making changes to the Town Manager Act. Thanks Karen and Mike. Good job, Governance).  

DOR people attending the Governance meeting were  Tara Lynch, Zach Blake and Joe Markaria, small government specialist. In addition to working for the state, Mark aria is the Town Moderator in Swampscott.

Blake told the committee that at the end of the 3-month review of the town DOR will produce a 25-30 page report with recommendations. “We look at structure, technology and any issues we see impacting the government as a whole.” Blake said Hull has been done before, and Lynch was reviewing Marshfield..

Governance Committeeman Ralph Dormitzer noted that state reimbursements to the town were trending down. “Right now, biggest challenge is finance. How do we maintain our infrastructure, our assets, when the fiscal cliff coming up?

Zack said “Luckily, Cohasset’s budget not dependent on state aid, as it gets very small portion. We do a snapshot of your operations, no real analysis.  Our recommendations will put you in a better position.”

Dormitzer said the committee’s was now looking into what committees should be elected or appointed.

The committee told Zack it had just finished the budget planning process, was moving on to a manual for elected and appointed boards, having surveyed all committees, and hoped to finish its work on the town manager’s act by December or January.  

Markaria noted that Governance had a wide-open mandate and that was good. He also stated that public input was important.

Markaria told Governance that the Town Manager’s Act was poorly written. He suggested the committee start working on the Act from scratch. He added that the committee had to be credible, and have no pre-ordained direction or objective during its review.

Statements made by Markaria:

1.     A full time employee has to be in charge.

2.     The Cohasset Town Manager Act was poorly written and should be rewritten from scratch.

3.     The Town Manager Act did give the Town Manager appointing authority and budget control and that was good.

4.     Elected commissions are fine, where staff people report to is far more important i.e. elect the health board but have the full time health agent report to the Town Manager. Allow the elected board to have input into hiring their agent.

5.     Selectmen should not be involved in hiring a clerk.

6.     Your Town manager act says whom the town manager appoints. It should also set up rules of government.

7.     Elected boards should have the authority to hire their own staff.

8.     The Town Manager Act should include a screening process for the Town Manager. You don’t want a member of the board of selectmen sitting on the screening committee. Selectmen shouldn’t get two bites of the apple.

9.      Town Manager screening committee should choose a minimum number of people for the selectmen to interview. Do not rank those people. Do not keep your candidates hanging…make your decisions promptly.

10.   The person you choose for Town Manager has more to do about temperament than qualifications. He has to get along with town boards and committees, and the public.

11.  Your Advisory or Finance committee is defined by statute. Their role is defined by that you put into a special act or charter. A bylaw won’t do it. Will it be the Town Manager’s or the Finance Committee’s budget that is presented to town meeting?

12.  If you don’t have a charter (and we don’t, and the committee does not seem to be interested in pursuing a charter because of the complexity of work required) you should define the budget process through the Town Manager Act.  Mark aria noted that the town had no other vehicle but the Town Manager Act.

13.  Put the Budget process into a bylaw. Recommend a budget calendar for the season. Steps are important, deadlines are important; it forces town officials to make decisions. (Governance has already accomplished the same).

14.  A lot of people have an interest in the budget process. It might work best if the town manager put together the process and present it to selectmen and the school committee. You want them sitting around a table and you want them to buy in early.

15.  If your Budget Planning group is a good group, it might the body to which a calendar is presented, However, Budget Planning is comprised of part time volunteers. When you assign responsibilities you want someone full time who is accountable.

16.  REMEMBER. You’re hiring a professional to run government. If you choose professional management to run your government, you don’t want to be stepping on their toes.

17.  When asked if the town should have a charter, Markaria said the way changes were being handled at the present time was more expedient. “The Government Study committee is more flexible, people can have input at town meeting.”

18.  A Charter (which is a lengthy process) doesn’t require the legislature to do anything – the Town is now running under home rule. A Special Act (which is what Cohasset has) requires the vote of a legislative commission.

19.  The Board of Selectmen cannot delegate responsibilities through bylaw; this can only be done through a special act under the Town Manager Act.

20.  You don’t want anyone to be able to get rid of the Town Manager by bylaw…that’s not stable.

21.  DOR will be happy to review all and any changes Governance might propose at any time during the reviews process.  This would happen in addition to Town Counsel and Attorney General review. Our review takes a totally different perspective.

22.  When asked if the Board of Selectmen should hire a police chief, Markaria said not. “The board of selectmen is on a first line with residents. You don’t want political people making decisions on the police chief. The Town Manager might be doing the a favor by providing cover.”

23.  Statute, library trustees, school committee, selectmen must elect housing authority.

24.  Governance should not piecemeal town manager changes. Changes to the Act should go to the legislature as a complete package.

© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed