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Home Ipswich: the Place

Town of Ipswich
Finance Committee

What's the Ipswich Finance Committee? How is it selected? What does it do?

The general description of the Finance Committee and the excerpts from state law and town bylaws remain correct.

However the lists of specific Finance Committee members, which have been retained for historical interest, are not current.

Although the Finance Committee does not have fiduciary authority of its own, its recommendations at the Annual Town Meeting carry substantial weight. It effectively uses the possibility of its negative recommendation to ensure both the town budget proposed by the Board of Selectmen and the school budget proposed by the School Committee fit within actual projected revenues. As it has an overall view of all proposed financial expenditures, it's often in the best position of all town boards to ensure that everything meshes together. It also makes sure that total town expenditures will fit under the Prop 2½ levy limit.



Members

A listing of the members of the Ipswich Finance Committee was maintained here for several years through spring Town Meeting 2006. For the current membership see the short description of the Finance Committee on the town's website.

As per Ipswich's rules, three seats were vacated after the Annual Town Meeting in April 2002, three after Annual Town Meeting in April 2003, three after Annual Town Meeting in April 2004, and so forth.


Elected by Town Meeting--
Appointed by the Town Moderator--
Appointed by the Board of Selectmen--

Ellen Rose, the holder of the Town Meeting seat until 2002, announced she would vacate her seat at the end of her term, so the position was open for election at the 2002 spring Town Meeting.

One full week before the 2002 Annual Town Meeting, five citizens had expressed to town hall their interest in being appointed to this position: Charles B. McShane Jr., Diane C. Linehan, Kathlyn Nichols, Jay Gallagher, and Dan Clasby. A sixth interested citizen, Lisa-Marie Cashman, surfaced at the FinCom meeting two days later. The Salem Evening News newspaper interviewed most of these candidates and summarized both the views of each candidate and the mechanics of filling the seat in a story printed Friday March 29, 2002.

Four of these six were nominated from the floor at 2002 Annual Town Meeting (the other two dropped out). The four nominations were Lisa-Marie Cashman, Charlie McShane, Dan Clasby, and Kathlyn Nichols. A majority of the existing Finance Committee recommended Dan Clasby. However at least one member of the existing Finance Committee felt the FinCom should not make any recommendation at all but rather leave the choice completely up to the town meeting. The town moderator orchestrated an election on the spot at town meeting, and the existing Finance Committee's recommendation Dan Clasby was chosen to fill the position.

There was much interest in the Selectmen's seat over several weeks, and eventually there were six candidates: John Bruni, Charlie McShane, Kathlyn Nichols, Lisa-Marie Cashman, Jay Gallagher, and Diane Linehan. After some pondering during which selectman Engel nominated both Charlie McShane and Jay Gallagher but neither nomination received a second, the selectmen chose to re-appoint the incumbent John Bruni to fill their seat for three more years.

In 2002 the town moderator re-appointed his incumbent Jamie Fay. Although that information had not reached the Board of Selectmen nor the Town Manager by early May 2002, it was already available from the town website.

Joni Soffron-Jarrett, the Selectmen's member whose term expired in 2003, and Mary Harrington, the Town Meeting's member whose term expired in 2003, both announced that they did not wish to be re-appointed/re-elected.

There were two candidates for the FinCom seat at the 2003 Annual Town Meeting, Robert White and John Gahan. Neither the existing FinCom nor Selectmen made a recommendation about the vote, saying they felt either candidate would make a good addition to the committee. The Selectmen even encouraged the loser to contact them about their appointment to the FinCom which they'll make in May to fill the seat vacated by Joni Soffron-Jarrett. Town Meeting voted Robert White to fill the seat vacated by Mary Harrington.

At the 2004 Annual Town Meeting George Markos was re-appointed/re-elected. There were no other nominations.


Selection

State and town law require only that there be a Finance Committee in Ipswich, and that three members be selected each year (one elected by Town Meeting, one appointed by the Town Moderator, and one appointed by the Board of Selectmen). Even though not legally required, Ipswich has traditionally leaned very strongly toward re-appointing the incumbent whenever the incumbent is still available. When the Town Meeting seat is vacated, Ipswich Town Meeting has traditionally followed the recommendation of the existing Finance Committee in electing a new Town Meeting representative.

It may be useful to compare the composition of the Ipswich Finance Committee with the population of the whole of Ipswich over the last century.

The Ipswich tradition of re-appointment of FinCom incumbents is so strong that the appointment process tends to not even be very visible. As a result of the tradition of re-appointing incumbents, the members of the Finance Committee --who are not elected at the ballot-- often serve for a very long time in Ipswich. Both the hotly contested election at 2002 Annual Town Meeting and the large number of new candidates in 2002 were unexpected. Mostly they grew from solitary efforts by one Salem Evening News reporter to make the selection process very public and very open.

Former selectman Jim Engel has pointed out that Finance Committee members serve three masters:

A comparison of the selection process and length of service with surrounding towns is not presented here because not enough information is available. The information available from the ATFC/MMA (Association of Town Finance Committees/Massachusetts Municipal Association) does not cover any surrounding towns. And even for the towns it does report on, the ATFC/MMA information does not tell in any detail how the Finance Committee members are selected.


State Law

Massachusetts state law requires that every town whose property tax base exceeds $1 million have a Finance Committee to investigate cost, maintenance, and expenditure of the different departments of the Town service. (One practical interpretation of the law is that every town should have an independent body to advise the town to make sure its expenditures are reasonable.)

The particular state law that requires this is Chapter 39 Section 16 of the General Laws. Here's that state law.

CHAPTER 39. MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT.

Chapter 39: Section 16. Appropriation, advisory or finance committees; appointment; tenure; powers and duties.

Section 16. Every town whose valuation for the purpose of apportioning the state tax exceeds one million dollars shall, and any other town may, by by-law provide for the election or the appointment and duties of appropriation, advisory or finance committees, who shall consider any or all municipal questions for the purpose of making reports or recommendations to the town; and such by-laws may provide that committees so appointed or elected may continue in office for terms not exceeding three years from the date of appointment or election.

In every town having a committee appointed under authority of this section, such committee, or the selectmen if authorized by a by-law of the town, and, in any town not having such a committee, the selectmen, shall submit a budget at the annual town meeting.


Town By-Laws

The detailed implementation of the Ipswich Finance Committee is contained in the By-Laws of the Town of Ipswich. Here's the relevant part of the Ipswich By-Laws, copied exactly from the Town Manager's copy (including apparent anomalies that may be either legalese or typographical errors).

By-Laws

Section I. Membership and Organization

(a) A Finance Committee of nine members shall be appointed at the Annual Town Meeting: three by the Moderator for one year, two years, and three years, respectively; three in similar fashion by the Selectmen, and three in similar fashion by the voters; and thereafter, one annually by the Moderator, one by the Selectmen, and one by the voters, each for three years, at the Annual Town Meeting. The Town Accountant shall ex officio be a nonvoting member of the Committee. The terms of the members of the Committee shall expire at the close of the Annual Town Meeting at which their successors are appointed. After the conclusion of the Annual Town Meeting, the Committee shall organize by choosing a chairman and a secretary, and shall cause a true record of its proceedings to be kept.
(1937: c. IV, s. 1)

(b) Whenever a vacancy occurs in the committee by resignation, failure to qualify, or otherwise, the same shall be filled by the Committee. If the Committee so votes, a member who absents himself from four consecutive meetings may be deemed to have resigned. The term of any person appointed to fill a vacancy shall expire at the close of the next Annual Town Meeting, and the vacancy shall then be filled by the exercise of the appointive power under which the original appointment was made.
(1937, c. IV, s. 2, amended 1973)

(c) No person holding an elective town office shall be eligible to serve on the Finance Committee.
(1937, c. IV, s. 2, amended 1973)

Section 2. Consideration of Budgets

(a) It shall be the duty of the Finance Committee to investigate cost, maintenance, and expenditure of the different departments of the town service. It shall be the duty of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee to lay before the Finance Committee, on or before January 20th in each year, their budgets and projected expenses for the Town for the year, together with their recommendations for appropriations necessary to provide for the operation of the town government during the year. It shall be the duty of the Electric Commisioners to lay before the Finance Committee, on or before March 1st their projection of income and expenses for the Electric Department for the year, together with their proposed appropriations for the operation, if applicable, of the Electric Department during the year. It shall also be the duty of the Electric Commisioners to consult with the Finance Committee before making changes in ownership contracts relating to generating facilities outside the Town of Ipswich.
(Amended by vote of the Town Meeting, October 23, 1985; approved by the Attorney General December 9, 1985)

(b) The Finance Committee shall hold at least one public hearing on the said budgets before the Annual Town Meeting, and shall give a reasonable public notice thereof.
(1937: c. IV, s. 3, amended 1973)

Section 3. Consideration of Town Meeting Warrant Articles

(a) All aticles in any warrant for a town meeting, except articles providing for election of town officers, shall be referred to the Finance Committee for consideration. After drawing any such warrant, the Selectmen shall immediately transmit a copy thereof to each member of the said Committee.

(b) Before the Annual Town Meeting the Committee shall hold a public hearing upon all such articles in the warrant for the meeting. A notice of the hearing shall be published not less than three days before the time of the hearing.

(c) The Finance Committee may hold a public hearing on any or all articles in the warrant for a Special Town meeting. Notice of the hearing shall be published not less than three days before the time of the hearing.

(d) After due consideration of the subject matter of such articles in any warrant, the Finance Committee shall report thereon to the town meeting, in writing, such recommendations as it deems best for the interests of the Town.
(1963: c. IV, added section A, added by vote of Town Meeting March 4, 1963, approved by the Attorney General June 18, 1963)

Section 4. Investigations

The Committee shall have the authority to summon any of the town officials before it for such information and investigation as it shall deem necessary, and shall have the authority to examine such books and papers held by such officials as it may consider necessary to the proper discharge of its duties.
(1937: c. IV, s. 7)

Section 5. annual Report and Recommendations

(a) It shall be the duty of the Committee to make an annual report to the Selectmen to be distributed to the town, and they shall cause the matter in hand to be arranged in clear, compact form, and they shall divide it in separate propositions wherever, in their judgment, such division may be desirable. The Committee shall attach to each proposition their recommendations.
(1937: c. IV, s. 5, amended by vote of Town Meeting April 4, 2000; approved by the Attorney General September 27, 2000)

(b) It shall be the duty of the Finance Committee to consider the expenditures in previous years and the estimated requirements for the ensuing fiscal year as set forth in the budget submitted to them by the selectmen. The Finance Committee shall add to the statement of expenditures, and estimates submitted by the Board of Selectmen, another column, giving the amounts which in its oppinion should be appropriated for the ensuing fiscal year, and shall further add thereto such explanations and suggestions relating to the proposed appropriations as it may deem expedient, and report thereon.
(1963: c. IV, added section B, adopted by vote of Town Meeting March 4, 1963; approved by the Attorney General June 18, 1963)

(c) The report of the Finance Committee on articles in the warrant for any Annual Town Meeting shall be filed in the office of the Town Clerk not later than fifteen days before the date scheduled for the Annual Town Meeting; and the Town Clerk, under the direction of the Town Manager, shall forthwith cause said report to be printed and a copy thereof to be distributed prior to said meeting to each registered voter in the town.
(1963): c. IV, added section B, adopted by vote of Town Meeting march 4, 1963; approved by the Attorney General June 18, 1963)

(d) The report of the Finance Committee on articles in the warrant for any Annual Town Meeting shall be filed in the office of the Town Clerk not later than fifteen days before the date scheduled for the Annual Town Meeting; and the Town Clerk, under the direction of the Town Manager, shall forthwith cause said report to be printed and a copy thereof to be distributed prior to said meeting to each registered voter in the town.
(1963: c. IV, added section A, adopted by vote of Town Meeting March 4, 1963; approved by the Attorney General June 18, 1963; amended 1973)


References


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