September 25 2018

Burlington Voters to Decide if Treasurer/Collector Elected or Appointed Position

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington voters will go to the polls next April to decide if a top financial position in town should remain an elected official or become an appointed town employee.


On Monday evening Town Meeting voted to approve a warrant article that called for changing the Treasurer/Tax Collector seat to an appointed position.


The idea of making the change was first floated in February after current Treasurer/Tax Collector Brian Curtin, who has been in the position for over four decades, announced his retirement. He has since withdrew that announcement and said he will stay on until this matter is resolved and the transition of the Town Administrator and Town Accountant seats is complete.

Selectman Bob Hogan, currently the Vice Chair of the board, said at the time that he felt the position had grown too complicated over Curtin’s tenure to have it be in the hands of someone who was more “popular” than qualified. He pointed out that the town budget had grown from $20 million to about $147 million during the last 42 years and there are more rules and regulations.

During Town Meeting the question of whether the town could get a qualified candidate through the election process was a hot topic.

Town Meeting member Sally Willard said that in the 1970s, when Burlington decided to make the position elected, most towns made the same decision but that many had changed course.


“In 2018 more than 80 percent of towns now have the seat appointed because of the complexity of the laws that have to be adhered to and the educational requirements,” she said. “Most towns have chosen to appoint to get someone who is well qualified.”


Town Meeting member Terri Clement, who is also the Assistant Tax Collector in Curtin’s office, made a similar case. She said Curtin has had the position for 42 years and since that time the growth in the budget means the town needs someone who can handle the responsibility from day one.


“I’ve seen elections won on popularity and managing a budget of $147 million should not be based on who is popular,” she said. “If the seat remains elected a qualified person may run but my fear is that someone more popular will win out. One wrong decisions by a Treasurer/Collector could cost us millions and risk our AAA rating. As a Town Meeting member I don’t want to play Russian Roulette with the town’s money and the town’s investments that Brian has helped build to what they are today.”


“I don’t think this is the type of position that should be on the job training,” Town Meeting member Dan DiTucci added. “How can we be ensured that we’re going to get a person who’s qualified?”


One person notably in favor of keeping the seat an elected position was Curtin himself. He argued that it is important for the position to have independence and autonomy when working with town leadership. He said part of his job is to invest the $140 million town budget based on requirements of Massachusetts laws and also to borrow for all capital projects and to select a financial adviser for those bonds.


“I think that function alone is crucial and necessitates independence to ensure independent decisions and autonomy,” he said.   


Curtin also argued that he feels a Burlington resident would have “more skin in the game” and that it is important for the Treasurer/Collector to be beholden to voters rather than the administration.


“Transparency and independence is key,” he said. “I think having it appointed removes the independent oversight.”


Town Meeting and Ways & Means member Frank Monaco also argued that independence was important. He said that as a member of Ways & Means he has sat with town leadership, including the Town Administrator, Town Accountant and the Treasurer/Collector and has seen first-hand how the independence of the latter seat led to a real sharing of ideas.


“One of the things that happens when you have a real separation of elected as opposed to appointed, you get different points of view because chain of command is separated,” he said. “There is a level of independence that comes out of that. When you combine this into the Town Hall, some of that separation goes away, and now the person would work for the Board of Selectmen. With a voted position, the person lives in town and faces the voters.”


Curtin also addressed the issue of training. He said that whoever is elected must get a state certification which requires classroom learning and passing a test.

In the end Town Meeting voted in favor of the article to make the position one appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The issue will now be a ballot question during the April Town Election and must pass by a simple majority to become official.


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