Moderator’s Statement in Support of Article 20

The following was submitted by Moderator Dennis Berry:

My thanks to the Wayland ENews for the opportunity to discuss Town Meeting Article #20, regarding appointment of the Finance Committee.

The article proposes that the Finance Committee be appointed not by the Select Board as it is now, but by a two-member appointing committee consisting of the Moderator and the Chair of the Select Board. This precise issue was included as a petitioner’s article last year and with little pre-meeting discussion or publicity, narrowly defeated. In fact, had 14 votes changed, the article would have been adopted.

The adoption of this article will separate the Executive and Legislative powers and underscore the role of the Finance Committee as an independent advisor to the Town Meeting. That is the role assigned to it by the Finance Committee Handbook published by the Association of Town Finance Committees.

Separation of powers is a cornerstone principle of American government. The referenced Finance Committee Handbook clearly recognizes and supports this separation. The last phrase of the preface to that Handbook says that “Separation of powers was designed by the founding fathers for a reason.”

Separation is obvious at the state and federal levels, not so much for municipalities. Nevertheless, towns do have separate Executive, and Legislative branches. The Executive is represented by the Select Board, while the Legislative is of course the Town Meeting.

Under state law almost all towns are required to have a Finance Committee, sometimes called the Advisory Committee, which can be either appointed or elected. The purpose of the Finance Committee in all towns, including Wayland, is to represent the Town Meeting and recommend a budget to the Annual Town Meeting. But how can the Finance Committee represent the Town Meeting, the Legislative branch, when its members owe their appointment and continuation in office solely to the Select Board, the Executive branch?

In most towns, including all of Wayland’s chosen peer towns, this is addressed by appointment of the Finance Committee solely by the Moderator or by a hybrid process. Out of 102 towns responding to a survey by the Mass. Moderators Assoc., 69 had appointment of the Finance Committee solely by the Moderator, 18 by a hybrid committee and only 15 solely by the Selectmen. In fact, moderator appointment is so common it is the model initially mentioned in the Finance Committee Handbook. In towns with a hybrid appointment process, the Moderator is always included. Wayland is in the distinct minority of towns throughout the state where the Select Board (the Executive branch) solely makes the appointment without any Moderator input.

This disparity in appointment procedure was called out and criticized in the 2018 Collins Report. That report was often cited by those supporting the now adopted transition to a town manager. Section 3.2 of that Report criticized the blurred lines of Wayland’s budgetary process. That section made a specific suggestion that the Select Board consider moving to appointment of the Finance Committee by the Moderator or a hybrid process. This Article follows through on that suggestion.

The Collins Report has been implemented to the extent of the installation of a town manager form of government. That implementation does address a good portion of the blurred lines noted above. It is a natural evolution of that implementation process to move appointment of the Finance Committee to the suggested model of the Moderator or a hybrid.

Adoption of this means of appointment is especially timely this year as the town implements a revised form of government.

Under the town manager form as adopted by the town last year, the Select Board will of course appoint the manager. That manager will become the town’s chief financial officer, a role not previously specified. While this clarification is a valuable change, it increases the budgetary authority of the manager, and thereby the Select Board to whom the manager reports. To install a measure of separation of powers it is only prudent to curtail the Select Board’s Executive branch authority. By including the Moderator, as the representative of Town Meeting, in the appointment process it will take a step towards installing the proper balance between the authority of the Executive and Legislative, branches. This is why it is the general practice throughout the state and accepted by the Finance Committee Handbook.

Some will argue that a two-person committee can be subject to stalemate. That ignores the fact that two people can and often make decisions when they compromise and understand each other’s point of view. In addition, given a seven-member Finance Committee, there will, except for filling a vacancy, always be multiple appointments to be made. Certainly, two of the most visible participants in town government ought to be able to find common ground to make two or three appointments annually.

Others will say that five people are better than two. But five people coming from the same perspective hardly represent an independent point of view. Perspectives change as board membership and responsibilities change. A varied perspective when the participating parties come from and represent different sectors will bring a better Finance Committee selection process.

The Select Board supports this article, as it did last year. It should be noted that all three members of the Select Board who support the article are former members of the Finance Committee.

I would ask your support for this article at the upcoming Town Meeting.