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Battling Town Meeting agenda items focus on FinCom

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How the Winchester town Finance Committee operates and appoints its members will be the subject of debate at Fall Town Meeting, which started Monday night and continues Thursday evening.  Two warrant articles being put forth as citizen’s petitions are attempts to change the by-laws that govern the committee. 

 Both articles come on the heels of a controversial appointment process this past summer and their proponents spoke at the town manager’s public hearing last Wednesday, a recording of which can be viewed on WinCAM, https://wincam.org/programs/ondemand/ . Presentations on these articles start about an hour and 35 minutes into the recording. 

 According to proponent Timothy Matthews, who is also a Precinct 1 town meeting member, Article 29 outlines changes to cover three major areas: ensuring maximal transparency and openness, ensuring representation from all voting precincts in town, and changing the appointment and reappointment process to better reflect FinCom’s role as an advisory body to town meeting.  As Matthews stated, “FinCom is not intended to be a policy-making body.  The primary responsibility is really to guard against financial malfeasance and make sure everything is above board.”

 Some of the proposed changes include requiring the finance committee to hold at least one virtual public meeting leading up to town meeting, prohibiting members from serving on political PACs, requiring members to take time off after serving two consecutive terms, and ensuring that finance committee takes official positions only on warrant articles that have a direct financial impact to the town. 

 The article also includes changes to the appointment process.  Currently, the town moderator, FinCom chair and select board chair jointly appoint applicants to the 15-member committee.  Article 29 would reduce the total number of members to 11, with town meeting members from each of the 8 precincts selecting 1 person from their precinct to sit on FinCom; and the town moderator selecting 3 additional applicants to round out the expertise of the committee.  According to Matthews, “Winchester’s current bylaw provides no guardrails for broad representation, and without that there’s a risk that perspectives would be missed or bias introduced.  I believe that the finance committee needs to provide a balanced perspective that faithfully represents those from all walks of life who call our town home.”

The current breakdown by precinct is as follows: precincts 1, 3, 5 and 8 have one each, precincts 2 and 7 have two each, precinct 4 has three, precinct 6 has four.   

 Article 30, whose proponent is Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member Stephen Boksanski, would keep the appointment process as it currently stands.  Reappointments, on the other hand, would be chosen by the outgoing and incoming FinCom chairs along with the town moderator.  At the town manager’s presentation, Boksanski spoke about the need for clarity around the appointment process, since there had been some disagreement during the most recent round of appointments and reappointments. When asked for a statement by Winchester News he responded that FinCom “plays a unique and very important role in town governance and Article 30 seeks to protect their independence by establishing a clear policy for reappointments where none currently exists.  This incremental change seeks to remove potential conflicts over specific agenda items before the town and create a standard procedure for those who wish to continue their public service.”

There has been some discussion on these articles on the newly established Town Meeting Members Association website, with one town meeting member wondering what problems these articles seek to solve. Precinct 3 Town Meeting Member Lance Grenzeback pointed out that Article 30 could potentially lead to sitting committee members practicing outsize influence over the makeup of the committee. “Article 30 would give control of reappointments to a majority of current FinCom members.  This creates the possibility that a majority of FinCom members might choose to reappoint only those who share their outlook on financial and related town matters.  This could create a self-perpetuating committee that would be independent, but not necessarily well constituted to provide balanced recommendations to Town Meeting. This consideration alone suggests that Article 30 is not an improvement over the current appointments process.”  

FinCom chair John Miller could not be reached for comments. 

Alison Swallow is a Precinct 8 town meeting member

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