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Elected Finance Board Is Best For Newtown – The Newtown Bee

Published: Jan 06, 2022 04:05 PM

To The Editor:

I agree with a letter writer’s recent assertion that the Legislative Council in Newtown is an elected body that currently has broad power, and that the Town Attorney has said that it is the Fiscal Authority under our current Charter. Because it “is” does not mean it “should be”. Charter revision is a mandated process by which processes and structures that have gone slightly off the tracks or which are outdated can be adjusted or best practices put in place.

Many of our town officials feel that there are too many financial reviews by bodies with conflicting points of view, and that the present process wastes time and effort. Opponents of an elected Board of Finance offer two main alternatives: make the Board an appointed entity that advises the Legislative Council, or abolish it altogether and have the Council itself perform the fiscal and budgetary functions. This is a false choice.

If we all can agree that the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council should not duplicate each other’s efforts, I would argue that the town budgetary responsibility be placed primarily in an elected Board of Finance, subject to a veto by a supermajority of the Legislative Council. I believe that voters want an entity solely focused on budgetary decisions, and they want a voice in who makes those decisions. I think that voice does not get heard if filtered through the many other issues faced by the Legislative Council. I also believe that placing sole budgetary responsibility in the Legislative Council is an unacceptable concentration of power in one entity.

Likewise, the assertion that elected boards somehow won’t attract “the best people” is a red herring. The political process has always dissuaded some who shy away from being vetted by the electorate, but I don’t think any of us want to live in a town run exclusively by MBAs, CPAs, engineers, or lawyers. There is a vital place in our town’s financial decision-making for small business owners, teachers, service workers, seniors, and others with broad community experience not derived from analysis of a balance sheet.

Reasonable people can disagree as to where the line of budgetary authority should be drawn between the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council. That is a different question than whether the Board should exist at all, or whether it should be an elected or appointed body. I would urge the Charter Revision Commission and the Legislative Council to keep the elected Board and focus on the hard work of revising the distribution of authority between the two bodies. That will best serve Newtown in the long run.

Peter Schwarz