Letter : Vote no on question 3
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, October 29, 2016
As a member of the Charter Revision Commission, I voted against recommending removal of the first selectman from continuation as the chairman of the Board of Finance and the elimination of the requirement that Board of Finance members be New Canaan “taxpayers.”
I recommend a no vote on question 3.
Question 3: Shall the current charter be changed so that the first selectman, although remaining an ex-officio member of the Board of Finance, will no longer serve as chairman of the Board of Finance, and the Board of Finance will choose its chairman from its regular members?
If the proposed change is approved, the appointed Board of Finance will be totally unaccountable to the voters of New Canaan.
The present requirement that the first selectman serve as chairman of the Board of Finance — without voting except in the case of a tie — originated in the 1935 Charter of the Town of New Canaan. The argument that after 80 years of fiscally-responsible government there is now a need for an additional check to balance the power of the Board of Selectmen evidences a misunderstanding of the responsibilities of the town’s governing bodies. It ignores the purpose of the Board of Finance as the town’s financial adviser and the role of the Town Council as the town’s final check and balance on the power of the Board of Selectmen and the budget.
The first selectman is the most knowledgeable person on the town’s issues. The first selectman devotes full time to the responsibilities of the office and the needs of the town. Board of Finance members are not concerned 24/7 with the operations of the town as is the first selectman. The uncompensated, volunteer members of the Board of Finance, while knowledgeable on the town’s issues, are appointed by the Board of Selectmen based on their expertise in financial, business and legal affairs to advise on financial matters. They are expected to exercise their expertise in the best interests of the town by monitoring all boards, commissions, committees and officers’ financial activities and recommending annual appropriations, bond issues, and establishing the tax mill rates.
Removing the first selectman from the chairman role would create a totally independent fourth center of power that would not be accountable to the voters. The Board of Finance would compete as an equal with the elected Board of Education, the elected Town Council and the elected Board of Selectmen on fiscal decisions. Yet it would have no responsibility to answer for its actions to the town’s voters.
Contrary to the expressed goal of creating additional checks and balances, I believe removing the first selectman from chairmanship will create a rogue body totally indifferent to the needs and wishes of the voters.
I urge all voters to vote no on question 3.
Russell Kimes, Sr.
New Canaan charter revision commissioner