Garbage In, Garbage Out

By Mike Flaherty | Oct 17, 2011

 

I would like to start this blog with an excerpt from another discussion on Wareham Week entitled, Big purchases discussed during FinCom public hearing.


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September McCarthy wrote:
(emphasis mine)

There is no free cash. It has to be certified by the Mass. Dept. of Revenue as of July 1, but they will not do that until the accounts have been reconciled. The auditor's report is now said to not be available until late December, and even that does not guarantee that the accounts will be reconciled at that point. The reality is that no one outside of Town Hall knows what the expenditures and income has been. This is a major concern.


More:
http://wareham-ma.villagesoup.com/news/story/big-purchases-discussed-during-fincom-public-hearing/171922?cid=238266
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BINGO, September!!!  And the BOS just lets the TA get away with it.



And on that note, I would like to give a shout out to all my friends and neigbors who said they were demanding transparency and accountability at the last election.  That includes me too. 



Sorry folks, but I'm not seeing it.  Instead we are told that the BOS needs to "protect" the TA. 


Protect him?  Protect him from what or who?  From the FinCom?  From you, the citizens of this town?

 
Now look.  There are definitely some folks in this town who would like to see Mark Andrews fired yesterday, mostly just because of who hired him (the former BOS).  I don't put myself into that category.  I have worked very professionally and constructively with the TA in the past, and I will need to work with him professionally and constructively in the future.  When he is on his game, I doubt you can find another TA more attentive to individual's needs and concerns than Mark Andrews.  That, and I put much stock in the DOR report that pointed out one of Wareham's major problems is the revolving door at the TA position (and the Town Accountant position too, {yes I know, but let's not go there right now}).


But that doesn't mean he gets a pass when it comes to keeping information from us.
  Whether it is keeping it from folks on Lynn Road, or members of the BOS or the FinCom or the Capital Planning Committee, it is unnacceptable.  Yet the Board of Selectman keep giving him a pass,  They keep accepting it.  Why?


We don't elect the TA.  He is hired by the BOS, and therefore he is ultimately answerable to them.  But if they don't ask the questions, then he doesn't have to give any answers.  It is that simple.


And in the end, we truly do get the the government we deserve.  Surprise, surprise!


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Quoting directly from the September 22, 2011 meeting of the Finance Committee:

Mr. McDonald stated he is struggling with this whole article in general. One problem he has is that the Town is four months into the FY2012 & he has not seen any completed financial information. He doesn't know what Free Cash is. He stated this article will incur additional debt. He doesn't have any numbers to work with or know where the Town stands on a financial standpoint. There are a significant number of capital needs looking to the future. He would like to know where the Town stands before making capital decisions. Ms. Bronk concurred.


Mr. Trudell stated the Capital Planning Committee have not made any decisions yet on this article, but they need to hear the explanations.


Mr. Andrews stated they are close to setting up a meeting wi the BOS to go over the audit. He explained that Article 1 are capital authorizations. These items are going into the future & they fit under the capital items which fall under the meals tax. There is a need to get the authorizations first.


Mr. Heath feels the FinCom's position has merit as well, but in the last 14 months he has been on the committee, he has received no financial documentation to make these decisions. He stated the FinCom is not comfortable making recommendations without seeing at least three months worth of information, such as expenditures & revenue.



More:
http://www.wareham.ma.us/Public_Documents/warehamma_minutes/WarehamMA_FinComMin/FinComMinutes092211.pdf
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The more I  learn about the FinCom, the more I am impressed.  Clearly these folks have our backs on this - or at least they are genuinely trying to.  For those who are unaware, "Mr. Heath" described above is the Chairman of the Finance Commitee.  In the short time that I have dealt with him, it was clear to me that the man does his homework and he runs a tight ship.  It is impossible, however, to do your homework when you don't have access to the books.


In fairness, I believe at the FinCom meeting last week, the TA did finally provide a few months of information.  But it was like pulling teeth to get it.

Ms. Begley, if you are reading, I voted for you in the last election based on your steadfast campaign promise to ensure we-the-people would have some accountability and transparency in our town government.  Please honor your campaign promise. 


The TA doesn't need to be protected.  He needs to be questioned.  This town can no longer afford the blind leading the blind.


I do recall that Brenda Eckstrom was a vocal supporter of the campains of both Ellen Begley and Mike Schneider.


Let me leave you with some of Ms. Ecstrom's wisdom regarding the School Commmittee that I think transfers well to the Board of Selectmen.  As you read the excerpt below, simply replace "School Committee with "Board of Selectman" and "Superintendent" with "Town Administrator" and "school" with "town"..



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Brenda Eckstrom wrote last year:


The School Committee is an elected body who is supposed to keep a watchful eye on the “experts” who are hired to run our schools. They are our representatives, not the superintendent’s spokesmen. They are not supposed to rubber stamp everything on the superintendent’s wish list. They should look at everything within the school budget with a critical eye. They should be looking where to save money, not where to spend it. 
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Oh heck, I'll do it for you:

The [Board of Selectmen] is an elected body who is supposed to keep a watchful eye on the “experts” who are hired to run our [town]. They are our representatives, not the [Town Administrator's] spokesmen. They are not supposed to rubber stamp everything on the [Town Administrator's] wish list. They should look at everything within the [town] budget with a critical eye. They should be looking where to save money, not where to spend it.
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Any questions?

Comments (17)
Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 17, 2011 09:28

You got it Mike. Clear as a bell. I have been saying all along the BOS need to ask questions of the TA. I was disappointed when they didn't ask one question this last meeting. I was hoping some of them read the comments on WW since the sentiment is clear. Andrews is playing fast and loose with the taxpayer dollars. At least that's the only conclusion I can draw since he won't give anyone numbers. If there was nothing to hide, the FinCom would have the numbers they have been asking for. If there was nothing to hide, Biz wouldn't have been gagged. Her lawyer said she would reveal plenty. Transparency? No way.



Posted by: frightened | Oct 17, 2011 11:58

Thank You Mike and to the few committeemen and selectmen who are questioning Andrews.  I question anyone who refuses to let his employers know what he is doing. Why is he so secretive?



Posted by: watersprite | Oct 17, 2011 16:00

Does anyone else get the feeling that not a single one of our selectmen want to be in office?  Do you, as I do, feel that there is no passion for getting us our of our troubled state?



Posted by: September McCarthy | Oct 17, 2011 17:57

Nice article, Mike. One thing that bothers me is the statement by Mr. Andrews . . .

 

"Mr. Andrews stated they are close to setting up a meeting wi the BOS to go over the audit. He explained that Article 1 are capital authorizations. These items are going into the future & they fit under the capital items which fall under the meals tax. There is a need to get the authorizations first."

 

The part that bothers me is "capital items which fall under the meals tax." This is an inaccurate statement as, I believe (but cannot find specific information on the town's website) that the meals tax is distributed to Community Events and another fund (?), but not specifically to Capital Expenditures. It is also presumptive of a vote on Article 3 of this Fall 2011 Town Meeting Warrant (which has not yet occurred) which requests two conflicting things -- that the .75% additional meals tax which was approved last spring be used to fund Capital Items, and that the meals tax (all or just the .75%?) be divided 50/50 between the Town and the School Committee. It is confusing, to say the least. The first question that arises is exactly how much money are we talking about, on an annual basis? If we assume that the 50/50 split pertains to the .75%, then the question becomes . . . will it have any significant impact on capital spending? Does this translate to an estimated $1,000 per year or $10,000 or $100,000 or some other amount? If it is not going to make a significant impact on capital spending then might it be better to use that money to support an activity/need of the town which would be significantly impacted by an extra $1,000 or $10,000 per year? If it does translate to a significant amount of money, then how will this be reflected in the expenses & future budgeting/expenditures for both Capital Items and the School Committee?



Posted by: Dick Paulsen | Oct 18, 2011 04:49

"Numbers."  Implicit with the notion of numbers is analysis, and more particularly,  analysis by the people who provide the numbers.  Last Wednesday, the FinCom was provided with the numbers for July and August, but no explanation as to any unusual variances.  Hopefully, those comments will be forthcoming at our next meeting, tomorrow evening since they-the reports- are on the agenda for discussion.

 

One set of numbers that we don't have- but are of equal or even more importance then what we have in hand-would be the June 30, 2011 variance report.  That report will show us where we stand versus budget for the full year 2011.

 

I have commented to our chairman that we should obtain that report before Town Meeting.  And the analysis attendant with it.



Posted by: September McCarthy | Oct 18, 2011 07:37

While I agree that it is unacceptable that the Finance Committee has not been provided with the financial information necessary to accomplish their duties, I would also like to point out something which they may be overlooking . . . the Bylaws of the Town of Wareham, Division I, Article IV, Section 6 specifically state that . . .

 

"The Finance Committee shall have authority at any time to investigate the books, accounts and management of any department of the Town and the books and accounts of the Town shal be open to the inspection of the committee or of any person authorized to act for said committee . . ."

 

Yes, Mr. Paulsen, the analysis is as important, if not more, as the numbers themselves. Given that Town Meeting is less than one week away, and according to the same section in the Bylaws, the Fin Comm is responsible for making recommendations on any warrant article relating to the appropriation of money, perhaps it is time to stop waiting for the information to be given to the Fin Comm. They have the authority to go and get it themselves, or designate someone to do so on their behalf.



Posted by: Mike Flaherty | Oct 18, 2011 08:33

 

I do love your style, September.

 

All great points.



Posted by: Mike Flaherty | Oct 18, 2011 09:00

=============================================
WaterSprite wrote:


Does anyone else get the feeling that not a single one of our selectmen want to be in office?  Do you, as I do, feel that there is no passion for getting us our of our troubled state?
=============================================


WaterSprite, I was actually thinking just that the other day.


I remember expecting Ellen and Mike to hit the ground running given their solid participation before being elected.  They attended most of the BOS meetings and often stayed later to discuss matters with some of the Selectmen.


Now they seem paralyzed and prefer to play "OML Police" with the other members where they are afraid work with the other members for fear of breaking the Open Meeting Law.  What a shame.


As much as it pains me to say this.  As much as it kills me to admit it.  I have to wonder what would have been if Frank DeFelice and Donna Bronk were voted in at the last election.  Anyone can say what they want about either of them, but they certainly weren't lacking in passion.


I didn't vote for either, and I don't know if I ever would.  But does anyone really have any doubt that Donna Bronk would have let the Biz public hearing drag on as long as it did without holding Mark Andrews accountable by asking all the right questions at the public BOS meetings?  I don't think so.


And when it comes to transparency, does anyone really think that Frank DeFelice would have let Mark Andrews slide at BOS meetings when it came to keeping Lynne Road residents in the dark.  Those citizens and tax payers had to essentially beg for copies of building permits for homes in their own development because they kept hitting road block after road block with Myles Burke's office.  I don't think Frank would have stood silently on that.


Just because folks are elected to the BOS doesn't mean they need to gag themselves.  Indeed, I would argue the opposite.  And frankly I don't recall Bruce or Brenda ever holding back - for good or ill



Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 18, 2011 10:26

Mike you are right. Begley and Schneider seem to be all talk no action. Either they hide behind OML or can't get involved in day to day. I said on another thread that the only people who can force Andrews to follow policy and bylaws are the BOS.  Winslow speaks up but as a lone dissenter she gets nowhere. Holmes can go either way. Cruz turns to Andrews for his responses. NONE of them hold the TA to the policies or by laws. None of them question him on the lack of financial numbers and answers. Hell I'm still trying to find out where the Bliss $203,000 and the Biz $42,500 and the Simmons $85,000 came from never mind where the $919,000 is.

 

Yet not ONE of the BOS have asked any of those questions. Why not? What are they afraid of? Transparency. Yeah. That sounds about right.



Posted by: Cara A Winslow | Oct 18, 2011 12:41

I read these blogs, not every single story or comment, but I try to get on them a couple times a week and "catch up". I am listening to you. I may not always agree with what is being said but I hear what you are saying.

 



Posted by: watersprite | Oct 18, 2011 12:44

At this stage, I would rather have BOS members that get angry and demand informed responses.  I don't mean grandstanding for the cameras.  I mean having a board member do their homework, look the TA in the eyes at a BIS meeting, and demand that he set a date when he:

- Hires a Town Accountant

- Provide an FY'11 variance report (even if it is unaudited)

- Submits requested monthly reports to the Finance Committee

- Presents a substantive progress report concerning closing the budget gap for the School Department in FY'13 and beyond (that would show true planning)

If he satisfies the demands, he gets a "thank you, it's your job".  If he fails to satisfy on schedule, demand a little more loudly and threaten that this poor performance will affect his contract or be the foundation for nonperformance.

 

This is the entire board's problem.  It should be the entire BOS recognizing it and dealing with it.  But...it does start with Mr. Cruz.



Posted by: Mike Flaherty | Oct 18, 2011 22:06

Well then you know what you need to do now, WaterSprite.  You need to run for Selectman :-)



Posted by: watersprite | Oct 19, 2011 08:55

I was encouraged last night by the activity of the BOS.  I was also impressed with Derrick Sullivan and hope there is more to come - as an articulate presenter he made it easier for everyone to ask questions and for Mr. Andrews to add clarifying points.  It should not bother anyone (especially Mr. Cruz, who seems almost paranoid about losing control) if there is tension between board members.  Mr. Holmes was excellent - I hope is health is improving.  But all board members were active, without grandstanding.  Kudos.



Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 19, 2011 09:48

Watersprite please read my post under the trash article thread. I have to disagree especially about the money voted in a previous town meeting and not posted to the ledger. Winslow asked the tough question and was blown off. Variances must be accurate. They shouldn't just be handed out to shut up the few people actually demanding transparency.  I like your attempt at humor though when you said Andrews added clarifying points. I have never heard him give a clear answer. Don't trust anyone who won't look you in the eye. He spends more time looking at his notes and scribbling feverishly so he doesn't have to make eye contact.



Posted by: watersprite | Oct 19, 2011 10:01

Bigbrother - I agree on Ms. Winslow trying to ask probing questions and getting confusing answers.  The current accounting system (VADAR) appears to be a disaster (confirmed from others who know), so I am not terribly surprised that the record keeping is screwed up.  Mr. Andrews' answer as to why encumbered funding from an Article is not loaded into the system in July was total babble ("we'll catch up at the end of the quarter").  Mr. Schneider asked the question about expenditures against these funds not showing up in the GL (general ledger), and Andrew's answer may have been correct ("we'll catch up at the end of the quarter"), but who knows.  He may be right, he may be doing what he can with a bad system, but, once again, he lacks the temperament or skill to explain problems clearly.

 

Mrs. Winslow tried to ask Chief Stanley about the PD chain of command and which Lieutenants had command authority (my guess was to find out what Lt. Bliss is doing and whether he is being blackballed or fully integrated back into the force), but I believe she lost her nerve when Chief Stanley pressed her to ask specific questions.  Good effort to ask a probing question, but she couldn't press it all the way through to the end.



Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 19, 2011 14:26

Boo hoo about VADAR. It was purchased by the town in 2003 according to page 21 of DOR report.  http://www.mass.gov/Ador/docs/dls/mdmstuf/Technical_Assistance/FinMgtRev/WarehamFMR.pdf   You'd think by now someone would have figured it out. Tired of the excuses. Did the dog eat the monthly variances too?  Enough.

 

The report, which came out in 2010 also says monthly reconciliations need to be done. Remember when Andrews kept telling us about how 98% of the DOR recommendations were complete? Read the report and see for yourself. Maybe he needs a calculator because I'm not seeing 98%.  Here is the section

 

34. Complete Monthly Reconciliations
It is our understanding that although internal reconciliations of cash and receivables are taking place in the treasurer/collector’s office, balances have not been reconciled to the accountant’s general ledger since June 2009. According to the accountant, this gap is attributed to issues with the current software. Still, the reconciliation of cash and receivables are essential financial controls and should be a priority. The town accountant is primarily responsible for coordinating regular monthly reconciliations and should arrange a time with the treasurer/collector at the end each month to meet and complete reconciliations, or to receive balances that she would then compare to the general ledger. It is their collective responsibility to resolve variances. To be successful, all respective records need to be up-to-date. The town administrator should consider appropriate steps to ensure that a regular schedule of reconciliations takes place moving forward. We also encourage the reconciliation of debt and grants.

 

I underlined the above. So no monthly reconciliations since 2009. It's 2011 people. Do we need a road map?



Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 19, 2011 14:45

More from the DOR report. Have the problems been resolved? how can we tell when we haven't closed 2010 books and it is Oct 2011. From the report-- I underlined the section to point it out. Vote no on article one and any money article until all the numbers are in. Play it safe people.

In April 2010, the DOR’s Director of Accounts sent a letter to the Town of Wareham pertaining to matters of financial management concern. Specifically, local officials were urged to resolve outstanding issues related to appropriation deficits, revolving fund authorizations, and community preservation committee activities (CPC). In addition, local officials were cautioned about appropriating amounts in excess of available funds. The Director has also required the town to submit its balance sheet for the close of FY2010, and to have free cash certified prior to approval of the FY2011 tax rate. The town must also raise all deficits disclosed in the balance sheet in next year’s tax rate. Below, we provide a series of recommendations that address the deficiencies in Wareham’s ongoing financial management identified by Director.
1. Prevent Appropriation Deficits
Overspending by departments in FY2009 created $20,850 in illegal deficits that were subsequently raised in the FY2010 tax levy. A further review of the FY2009 balance sheet and supporting documentation submitted to DOR revealed additional appropriation deficits of $202,370 in 12 separate accounts. These should also have been raised in the FY2010 tax levy, but since the FY2010 tax rate had already been set, this amount will be raised in the FY2011 levy. The effect is a reduction in available revenue and an unanticipated amount to be raised in FY2011.

 



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