SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Chairwoman of finance board in Wenham resigns

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — WENHAM — Catherine Harrison, chairwoman of Wenham’s Finance and Advisory Committee, resigned this week, saying she has “lost confidence” in the process taken to vet and develop the town’s budget.

With Town Meeting set for April 6, Wenham is at the tail end of its annual budget process.

“At Town Hall right now, there’s a lack of historical knowledge of the budgets,” Harrison said yesterday. “... The (budget) process was a bit too loose. It didn’t have enough discipline in it (for me) to have full confidence in the final budget that came out.”

Harrison read a statement announcing that she would resign at the committee’s meeting Monday evening (see box).

Harrison was appointed to a finance committee term that would have ended next year. Her resignation leaves the board with five members.

The Finance and Advisory Committee will discuss reorganization of the board at a meeting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 138 Main St.

Interim Town Manager Mark Andrews said yesterday that Harrison “has done yeoman’s work for the town and (finance) committee.”

Harrison is no stranger to the budget process. She has been on the finance committee for three years and served on the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee from 1995 to 2010.

This year in particular, Harrison said she took issue with the budget-vetting process. Her decision to resign was not political, she said, but “a personal one based on my ethics and beliefs.”

“The finance committee’s role is to be independent checks and balances,” Harrison said. “The budget that goes to Town Meeting is the finance committee’s budget, and I take that very seriously.”

“... I believe that a group has to establish the way they want to operate and move forward, and agree to a process on how things are going to be done and move forward in that context.”

A private financial firm has been overseeing Wenham’s finance department this winter after Finance Director Paula Bartlett resigned in December. Selectmen voted to contract with Baystate Municipal Services Group Inc. through July 31.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.

Harrison’s statement

Catherine Harrison, chairwoman of Wenham’s Finance and Advisory Committee, read this statement as she resigned from the board Monday night:

“I have been a member of the Wenham Finance Committee for three years — two years as chair.

Throughout this time — actually throughout my entire professional and volunteer life — I have been personally driven by two guiding principles.

“One is process — in my opinion, a good process that is carefully crafted, and then followed, is essential for a good outcome.

“Second is a strong ethic to meet my obligations — finish what I have begun.

“I’ve been involved in the Town of Wenham’s FY14 budget process since last fall. In the last four-five months I have been in the difficult position of losing confidence in the integrity of the process. It has been a struggle to balance my desire to fulfill my obligation as a finance committee member (‘to advise and make recommendations to town meeting on the budget and other areas of finance …’)*, with my dissatisfaction with the process.

“Tonight, with the voting for town meeting budgets essentially complete, I’ve reached the point where I must compromise my desire to finish what I have begun. The fact that I haven’t agreed with a few of the votes is immaterial — and actually healthy in decision-making groups. The issue is that I have lost confidence in the process.

“With that in mind, I am resigning from the Wenham Finance Committee, effective tomorrow, March 5, 2013.

“I wish the rest of you much luck as you approach the Warrant Hearing and Annual Town Meeting. And for those of you continuing to next year — I hope you spend at least a little time defining the process you want to use — and ensure that it is followed.

“Thank you.”

* 2012 Finance Committee Handbook-Massachusetts Association of Finance Committees