We have not one but two of our annual town meetings happening this Saturday, in Wellfleet and Truro, so fans of pure democracy will have to choose which one to attend. The weather report (as of late Tuesday) looks favorable, and these meetings are always educational and often entertaining.
If you’ve got a craving for high drama, I recommend taking in the Wellfleet meeting this year on the elementary school ballfield. As Fred Magee of the finance committee told K.C. Myers this week, “The real numbers [for the town budget] don’t exist yet. People will get angry at town meeting. I think that’s another thing we can predict.”
Keep this in mind: Fred’s not the type of guy to go out on a limb. But Wellfleet is looking at a 53-article warrant and a 24-percent increase in spending over last year, if all the budget requests in the warrant are approved. Last year’s annual town meeting in Wellfleet, the first ever to be held outdoors, breezed through 38 articles in four hours, with every single one approved by the voters. Not likely to happen this year.
What is likely is that citizens will demand answers to some questions about the current state of the town and its finances. Here’s a short and far from comprehensive list:
When the town’s auditor, Michael Nelligan of Powers & Sullivan, appeared before the select board on June 8, he was asked to explain the $765,000 “adjustment” his firm had to make in the town’s books. “The agency fund was upside down to the tune of $740,000,” he said. Not one of the five select board members asked him what he was talking about, or what agency fund he meant. There are nine of them on Wellfleet’s books. Aren’t any of the select board members curious about where that money might have gone?
Powers & Sullivan didn’t finish their work on the town’s 2019 audit until eight months after it would normally have been done. At that point, Town Administrator Dan Hoort was getting ready to leave town, and the accounting department hadn’t produced a balance sheet or maintained a general ledger for close to a year. Yet the auditor didn’t give the select board a management letter warning of these disastrously dire conditions because, Nelligan said on June 8, “I just made a decision that it’s really late in this process to issue a management letter. Why don’t we wait and see how the next year goes.” Do you really buy that? Because I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell…
Helen Miranda Wilson and Justina Carlson, the two incumbent select board members who are running for re-election, both blame the town’s financial meltdown on “staff turnover.” But when all these problems were blowing up, Dan Hoort, touted as a municipal finance wizard, had been the town administrator for nearly four years. And he says he couldn’t hire good people because Wellfleet has a reputation as a terrible place to work.
What’s wrong with this picture?