Open Meeting for FinCom Appointments
By Joyce Westner
Sept. 5, 2023. This Wednesday, a three-person committee meets on Zoom (https://www.winchester.us/Calendar.aspx?EID=9854) after some acrimony developed over the reappointment of a Finance Committee (FinCom) member whose term was up. Eight residents applied to fill six open positions on the Town’s Finance Committee (FinCom): three current members seeking reappointment, and five new volunteers. FinCom advises Town Meeting on fiscal issues, and is comprised of fifteen members charged with reviewing and moving Winchester’s yearly budget onto the floor of Town Meeting for consideration.
According to Winchester’s By-Laws, three individuals serve on the “appointing authority” for FinCom members: two elected officials—the town moderator and the Select Board chair, plus the FinCom chair.
At the July 31st Select Board meeting, FinCom Chair John Miller urged the Board to support the reappointment of one particular FinCom member to a three-year term. Miller had asked to meet in Executive Session, but Select Board Chair Richard Mucci held the meeting in open session saying the topic did not meet the standards for Executive Session.
For technical issues two FinCom members had already been reappointed without an interview so the committee could finalize business from the spring budget cycle. Town Moderator Heather von Mering said that some community members had raised concerns to her about the third member up for reappointment, prompting a decision to interview that individual alongside new applicants on July 25th and 26th. But as the first night of interviews concluded, FinCom Chair John Miller pushed for the third reappointment to be decided immediately, before proceeding with further interviews. When Mucci and von Mering declined to vote, Miller canceled the second night of interviews and approached the Select Board about a resolution to the impasse.
FinCom member Brian Vernaglia says, “The town’s by-law does not spell out the appointing process nor does it make any distinction between a new appointment and a reappointment.”
Town Legal Counsel Katherine Feoderoff was consulted and said that each member of the appointing authority has “to weigh the information that you have at your fingertips to determine whether any individual is appropriate for appointment or reappointment.” Former FinCom Chairs indicated that other members had likewise not been reappointed and that this action would “not be unprecedented.”
According to Town Meeting Member Timothy Matthews who follows FinCom’s meetings, “Outstanding questions remain about the applicability of Massachusetts’s Open Meeting Law (OML) to both the appointing authority and FinCom itself and that FinCom minutes for this spring’s budget season were delayed beyond the completion of Spring Town Meeting, making them unavailable for review by Town Meeting Members deciding on budget approval. FinCom currently sees its subcommittees, which review each department’s budget and provide recommendations for vote by the full committee, as ‘working groups,’ so meetings are held in private, with no minutes produced, and work products held confidential.”
The committee member who is up for reappointment told the Winchester News that he’s disappointed in the process. He said, “It’s really important that the independence of FinCom should be preserved. It does not report to the Select Board or to the Town Moderator.” And that if people are offended by his manner of asking questions about budgets or overruns, he’d appreciate the chance to get feedback about their concerns.
Despite repeated attempts to reach FinCom Chair John Miller, he did not reply to emails asking for comments.