WELLFLEET — After serving as town treasurer for almost three years, Miriam Spencer submitted her resignation on Monday, Nov. 15.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she told the Independent. “The turnover has made it so unstable. We don’t have a full complement of people we can rely on long-term.” Her last day was Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Spencer’s resignation adds to a long list of other resignations among town staff in the last few years, particularly those responsible for the town’s finances. Since she started in 2019, Spencer has worked with more than half a dozen town accountants and town administrators. These important staff positions have been held by people who often stayed no longer than a few months, she said.
In addition to the high turnover, the continuing accounting dept. problems have meant that new issues frequently emerge. Among the biggest unsolved mysteries are the “unknown variance” of $765,000 that was reported by the town’s auditors and the town’s inability to close its books for fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021. That has meant that the free cash account has not been certified by the state for those years.
The treasurer is responsible for managing the town’s payroll; paying bills outside payroll; debt management, including short-term borrowing and bonding; and administering benefits, including insurance, retirement plans, and the ins and outs of Medicare, Spencer said.
Interim Town Administrator Charlie Sumner informed the select board of Spencer’s resignation on Nov. 23. “It’s unfortunate,” he told the Independent. “It does throw a wrench into some of our plans, but we have to deal with that. She has a right to decide her own future. She has decided to resign and we respect that.”
The resignation will again push back the closing the books for 2020 and 2021, as interim Town Accountant Mary McIsaac will have to reallocate some of her time to the treasurer role while they recruit someone to take on the position, Sumner said.
Spencer became town treasurer after the previous treasurer, Rosemary Moriarty, retired in 2019. She had been the assistant town treasurer since 2015 and felt up to the challenge, she said, especially given that she was told she would get training and support. Her background includes being a math teacher.
That support, promised by former Town Administrator Dan Hoort, never came, Spencer said. “I was just trying to keep the wheels turning: keep the bills paid and people paid,” she said.
New leaders came with different expectations of how things should be done. “Someone new would derail what the last person did,” she said.
“We haven’t had solid leadership in a long time,” Spencer said. “We developed strategies for doing our work that may have blurred the lines between the treasurer’s and accountant’s offices.” She said she had to rely on the town accountant for data that often turned out to be wrong or unreliable. “The quality of my work is only as good as the data I get from the accounting office,” she said. “If you can’t count on that data, you’re constantly questioning.”
Spencer’s resignation letter singled out Hoort along with Marcia Bohink, Rich Bienvenue, Heather Michaud, “and even Mary McIsaac” as having promised guidance but not followed through. She also placed blame on the select board, writing, “High staff turnover in the accounting department and elsewhere, and inaction on the part of the select board and administrations past on critical staffing issues have left a legacy of dysfunction.”
She concluded by warning that “without long-term leadership in this area from a full-time town accountant and/or finance director, things will continue to unravel.”
“If Connie [Boulos] or Heather [Michaud] had stayed, I would have had a partner to work with,” Spencer told the Independent. Boulos was the town accountant for two years but left in 2019. Her job was taken by Gene Ferrari, who was fired a year later by then Town Administrator Maria Broadbent. Michaud came on in 2021, but stayed for only three months, resigning on April 23, the same day as Broadbent.
While Spencer credited Sumner and the interim accountants from Brewster with being competent, “They are going to leave,” she pointed out. “The only thing that’s going to make it work is that we have people paying attention.”