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April 5, 2013

Candidates spar over finance director

Wenham: Selectman says department is well-managed; challenger says it's in 'disarray'

Selectman candidate Jack Wilhelm says the town’s finance department is in “disarray” and he’d make it a top priority to hire back a full-time finance director, rather than continuing to use an outside consulting firm.

But incumbent Selectman Molly Martins says the department is being well-managed and supported by experienced staff. She says the outsourcing of the director’s position to a professional firm has been efficient and well-received at Town Hall.

That’s one of the key differences between the two candidates, who are vying for one available three-year term on the Board of Selectmen at the town’s annual election on Thursday, April 11. Voting will take place at Town Hall between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Wilhelm, 70, a former Finance Committee member, questions the adequacy of having an outside firm run the Finance Department while being required to be in town only 15 hours a week. Baystate Municipal Services Group was hired by the town after Finance Director Paula Bartlett resigned in December.

Wilhelm said the firm was hired to work until July, but the $25,000 contract has dried up and the firm has stopped its work. The town accountant and collector-treasurer are still in-house.

“You can’t function effectively without financial management, which is not being provided to the town accountant and treasurer,” he said. “There is nobody there.”

The department, he said, is “woefully understaffed” and lacking oversight.

“My task is trying to convince one or both of the selectmen to hire a permanent finance director like we had in the past and like most other towns have,” Wilhelm said. “They believe the money saved is well worth it, and I don’t. This experiment has been going on since December, and it is now April.”

Martins, 47, who is co-owner of a commercial construction and real estate development company, said she will continue to work to make sure the town is innovative in the management of its resources. The financial consultant provides the town services that it otherwise would be unable to afford, she said.

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