WELLFLEET — Helen Miranda Wilson, who has been a select board member for nine years, says the town’s current financial crisis and leadership vacuum does not worry her too much.
“I don’t get worried because I’ve been doing it for 22 years and I’ve seen things get better when they haven’t been good,” she says. “It’s not a drama.”
In April, Wellfleet’s new town administrator and new town accountant both resigned. The town’s free cash has not been certified by the state, which means there’s $1 million it cannot use. There are so many deficiencies in the town’s books that Interim Administrator Charlie Sumner and two part-time retired accountants are uncovering new problems every day.
Wilson is unconcerned.
“It never resolves,” she says. “It continues. Every year there are budget problems, and this year, there is dealing with the structure, which needs to be revamped. But it’s always ongoing.”
Wilson, 73, grew up in Wellfleet the child of literary lion Edmund Wilson. She attended Barnard College for one year, then the New York Studio School for two. A visual artist her whole life, she has volunteered on town committees for years, including the shellfish advisory board. In 2019, she donated $1 million anonymously to the town to buy 254 acres of shellfish flats off Indian Neck as part of a $2 million purchase, completed with $1 million of taxpayers’ money.
Her name was made public in June 2019, following a public records request filed by an editor of the Provincetown Banner. Town counsel instructed the town to release her name to comply with the state’s conflict of interest law. But the disclosure came only after months of Wilson’s advocacy and voting on the shellfish flats purchase.
Wilson defends her actions to this day, stating she had no financial interest in shellfishing and was donating money to help preserve the industry by preventing the flats from being sold for high profits. Her reason for being anonymous was not wanting to discuss the source of the money, which she insists was an inheritance from the death by suicide of her partner, Tim Woodman.
Furthermore, she says, former Town Administrator Dan Hoort told her it was okay to remain anonymous while advocating that taxpayers pay to purchase the flats.
Given that Hoort gave her advice contrary to town counsel’s, and that much of the crisis in the accounting department flourished when Hoort was town administrator and she was on the select board, would she do anything differently when it comes to hiring and supervising the next town administrator?
There is nothing to do, she says, but hope for good applicants. She would not change the way the job is advertised or described.
“We are lucky to get Charlie, but all the others had something good about them,” she says.
Wilson claims competence in municipal finances, yet she did not know what the town auditor was referring to three weeks ago when he tried to explain the $765,000 unaccounted for in the town’s books. He said the “agency fund was upside down to the tune of $740,000” and that “it made sense that that entry for $765,000 would go into that agency fund.”
Wilson says she doesn’t know which agency fund the auditor was referring to. But she told the Wellfleet Democratic Town Committee in a June 10 conference call that the visit with the auditor “was very reassuring to me. It wasn’t their fault that this happened. I see the situation having been very much exacerbated by the pandemic.”