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Financial Oversight Should Be Bipartisan, Objective – The Newtown Bee

Published: Dec 30, 2021 04:50 PM

To the Editor:

In response to a recent letter regarding the proposals around the Board of Finance: The Town Attorney has confirmed the Board of Finance in Newtown is an advisory board and that Legislative Council is the Fiscal Authority in Newtown. Our Council fills the same role as Boards of Finance in Monroe and Southbury, but we also make ordinances which is why the council has a larger membership and a different title.

I have a deep respect for the Board of Finance, its members, and the work they do, but claiming it is a “check” on the Legislative Council is not reflective of process as it makes recommendations. The voters are the ultimate check on the Council, and who we strive to represent. The Council is elected every two years and, in my time, I have seen control swing between parties twice and members regularly change.

The voters have the authority to approve or reject budgets and large appropriations.

When I was a kid, Newtown did not have a Board of Finance; we had a governmental framework similar to most Connecticut communities where the Executive Body and Board of Education feed into some Fiscal Authority before budgets ultimately go to the voters. Those towns get along just fine.

The bipartisan Charge Committee of the last Legislative Council tasked the Commission to “remove the Board of Finance” (3/3/21) as constituted and I believe that a majority of members of the new Council agree. This is not a partisan position. We have also heard from past Board of Finance members who support consolidation and simplification.

Newtown has several appointed boards and commissions that provide tremendous service to our community. Many have longer and staggered terms. These are subject to minority representation rules, which alleviate the concerns about stuffing boards to justify agendas.

I would contest that the political process, with partisan committees putting up slates, is more likely to result in pushing agendas as we saw when the conversation around potentially closing a school was turned into an election issue, compromising objectivity on the subject.

There is value in financial oversight, but that oversight should be bipartisan and objective, seeking to find only the most qualified individuals. Creating an appointed board would insulate the members from election issues.

As it is constituted now it is subject to partisan pulls and is a system that often prioritizes electability. It dissuades those talented individuals who would otherwise be willing to serve, but do not wish to be subjected to the political nastiness that our candidates experienced in the run up to November’s election.

The state and federal governments have recognized the value in having non-partisan, appointed financial advisory bodies (Office of Fiscal Analysis and Congressional Budget Office respectively.) I believe Newtown could benefit from willing volunteers playing a similar role.

My comments are my own and an individual and not on behalf of the Legislative Council, of which I am a member.

Kind regards,

Ryan Knapp

Sandy Hook