SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 24, 2012

Selectmen to consider contract with private financial firm

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — WENHAM — The town has only received one bid in its search to hire a private financial firm to get through the budget season in the wake of the finance director’s resignation.

Town Administrator Mark Andrews said the town reached out to six different firms through a request for quotations, but the town only received one certified bid from Baystate Municipal Services Group Inc., on Dec. 17.

Selectmen are expected to vote on entering a contract with the firm at their next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 27. A few members of the board expressed concerns about only receiving one bid when Andrews presented the proposal at the last selectmen’s meeting.

Finance Director Paula Bartlett resigned effective Dec. 18 to accept a job offer from a former employer.

Bartlett, who was promoted to the job permanently this summer after serving as the department’s interim director, is the third director to leave Town Hall in three years. Her salary was $78,000.

Andrews said hiring the firm is part of a transition plan and selectmen will decide how to move forward with filling the position, if they decide to do so.

Several other companies expressed interest in the contract but either didn’t have the staffing or experience with the town’s accounting software.

Bartlett’s resignation came at the start of a busy budget season, but Andrews said it is important for the board to consider the firm’s credentials. “We are on our budget schedule. We haven’t missed a beat,” he said.

If selectmen decide to hire Baystate Municipal Services, the firm will work with Andrews, selectmen and the Finance Committee on budget formulation, analysis and review of budgetary controls, Andrews said.

The $25,000 contract through Aug. 15 will require the firm to work 40 hours off-site and 15 hours at Town Hall each week.

“We want the expertise and experience from the firm to help guide us to the annual Town Meeting on April 6,” Andrews said. “They will also be looking at the overall system and whether we can make the budget process more efficient.”

As the former town administrator in Wareham, Andrews worked with a number of different firms, including Baystate Municipal Services, he said. He said many of the groups find out about such opportunities through the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Former Selectman Harriet Davis, who lost to Selectman Patrick Wilson in the May 2011 election, has spoken out against the plan.

“I don’t want a consultant for seven months,” Davis said. “We don’t want an outsider coming in and running the department off-site. There needs to be a full-time person in the office as soon as possible.”

Such a consultant should work for the town for a few weeks while the job is posted, she said.

Andrews disagrees with Davis’ concerns and thinks the town is moving in the right direction.

“We have an opening in a major department,” Andrews said. “We want to make sure we have a solid transition plan.”