SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 10, 2013

Letter: Wenham residents lost right to challenge salaries


The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Historic precedent was set in Wenham on Saturday. Wenham residents previously voted the budget “as presented” with the salary and expense lines detailed in the department budgets. Saturday, the residents at Town Meeting authorized the budget by department total. Was this even legal? Were the selectmen or Finance Committee supposed to take a vote to authorize this change? Did we, the residents of Wenham, lose a right to vote on staffing, salaries and expenses of the town?

There was no mention or discussion of this at the warrant hearing last Monday night or at the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday night or at any recent selectmen’s meeting. The Town Government Study Committee has been researching the town administrator position and many others. They are also looking at elected-versus-appointed positions. Why didn’t this come before them? Why weren’t residents notified that it was being thought of and given the opportunity to weigh in on this momentous change? I fear that this substantial governmental shift represents a loss of control over staffing, salaries and expenses. Where was the transparency?

The Town Meeting assembly was told that this was decided in a meeting attended by the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, the chairman of the Finance Committee and the moderator. Were the other selectmen or the rest of the Finance Committee consulted? It was not an agenda item on any posted meeting notices. Did three people make the decision that could have removed a citizen’s right that Wenham residents have enjoyed for, most likely, a hundred years? How thoughtfully was this done?

I intended to make a motion to change a salary line, and the moderator told me I could only propose a change to the total department budget. Therefore, with the new rules presented, residents at Town Meeting may not vote to change a salary line — they can only change the department total budget. Residents have lost their voice. Does this mean that the money for salaries can be shifted from an expense line? Much research should have been done before this was attempted. Outside counsel should have been consulted and the procedure defined. The citizens should have been told and given an opportunity to voice their opinions.

The impact of this amendment was not explained to the citizens. The only option given by the moderator was to vote down the entire budget. Twenty-five percent to 30 percent of the residents at the meeting did not approve and voted against Article 1. Since I was only made aware of this at Town Meeting, I had no ability to research the process or speak to counsel. I wish I could have articulated the unprecedented transformation that was occurring in a way most residents would understand.

The tears in my eyes were for you, my fellow residents of Wenham, as this appears to be the opinion of only a few individuals being forced on us, the voters. I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of Wenham. If you feel the same, please let your voices be heard and tell the selectmen that you do not agree with this new change.

Sarah F. Johnson

Wenham