Three weeks after a contentious town meeting vote restricted funding for administrative salaries, post mortems continue to reverberate about the proper role of appointed and elected officials in developing and approving budget goals.
Speaking during the citizen’s input segment of Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, Peter Ryan of South Street praised Advisory Committee members for taking a cautious approach to increasing municipal spending — and chided those who called their warnings a personal attack.
“It’s a fundamental issue, so it’s very disingenuous to call it personal,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t personal at all — and to characterize it as something else does a disservice to the people of this town.”
Prompted largely by a series of public clashes between advisory board members and Town Manager William Keegan, voters at the May 13 annual town meeting pared roughly $213,000 from a fiscal 2020 budget submitted by the administration and endorsed by the board of selectmen.
Included in this number was $26,500 for central administration salary expenses, mostly tied to contractually obligated compensation for Keegan and Assistant Town Manager Michael Johns.
At a meeting at Town Hall the following evening, Keegan voiced frustration with the outcome, and especially the Advisory Committee recommendation which helped convince voters to adopt it. In particular, he suggested the committee had overstepped its authority and that the town meeting vote could have legal ramifications.
“It’s a problem because we [now] don’t have enough money within the budget to pay all the people in the department,” Keegan said. “I’m not sure how we address it at this point.”
Selectman David Feldman and Water and Sewer Commissioner Michael Stanton took a more pointed approach, with Feldman characterizing the advisory board critique as personal and Stanton calling it a “coordinated, vicious attack.”
But this week, Ryan asserted that Advisory Committee members were clear their recommendation was prompted neither by a desire to eliminate jobs or curtail wages, but by concerns about the town’s growing pension obligations.
A 40-year resident whose wife, Colleen Ryan, served on the school committee in the 1990s, Ryan praised the advisory committee as citizen volunteers — like selectmen themselves — who provide an independent and objective review of municipal affairs, especially budgetary matters.
Impugning their motives will only make it more difficult to recruit townspeople for this essential purpose, Ryan added.
“To disparage them and misrepresent what they are doing is just wrong,” he said.