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CARVER

Governing procedures criticized

Employees shouldn’t hold office, review says

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / November 17, 2011

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A rural town with a history of doing things its own way will be asking itself some fundamental questions, after a state review raised red flags over its financial and governmental practices.

“I hope it’s the beginning of a process, so we can improve our little town,’’ said Jack Angley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, of the review, which includes, among its recommendations, that Carver town employees be barred from serving on his board.

Three members of the five-seat board are town employees: police Sergeant Michael O’Donnell, conservation agent Sarah Hewins, and treasurer-tax collector Jack Franey. The recent “financial management review’’ by the state’s Division of Local Services also recommended that the treasurer-tax collector, Franey’s post, be appointed rather than elected.

Carver officials had requested the review to shed light on the town government’s persistent difficulty in keeping its financial records up to date. Town accountant John Q. Adams complained to selectmen earlier this year that he was unable to do his job because postings of receipts by the treasurer’s department were months behind. Town departments such as the schools often lack precise, timely information on the status of their budgets, officials said.

The review, the work of a wing of the state’s Department of Revenue, is based in part on employee interviews at Town Hall. Delivered to the town last month and discussed by selectmen last week, it makes a number of technical recommendations on financial record-keeping. But it also brings a degree of attention to governmental practices welcomed by some officials.

Written by Division of Local Services staff who were headed by deputy commissioner Robert G. Nunes, the review states that “potential conflicts may arise between the selectmen’s role as town employers and the dual role of some members as employees.’’

“You can’t believe how awkward it can get,’’ Angley agreed. He cites the “difficulty of trying to discuss an issue [such as the performance of the treasurer’s office] when the treasurer is sitting on the board.’’

The review recommends that the town move to an appointed treasurer who reports to the town’s top administrator, the reverse of Carver’s present situation. In Carver, Town Administrator Richard LaFond reports to a Board of Selectmen that includes the town treasurer.

The review also criticized Franey’s performance as treasurer.

“From our vantage point,’’ it states, “the treasurer/collector needs to focus his priorities more directly on completing the core responsibilities of the office.’’

They cite “the late reporting of receipts to the town accountant and the lack of comprehensive cash records that are regularly reconciled with the accountant’s general ledger.’’ Problems have been going on for years and have been documented in the town’s annual audits.

One trouble spot emphasized by the review is “the absence of a proper cash book.’’

A cash book, Adams said by e-mail, “is a book in which a record of cash receipts and expenditures are kept.’’ He compared it to “the little recorder book’’ that individuals use to manage their checking account.

Incomplete record-keeping, abetted by the lack of a reliable cash book and the lack of regular cash reconciliations with the accountant “undermine critical financial controls over cash,’’ the state’s report concludes.

And incomplete records mean the town can’t close its books for the fiscal year, said LaFond. Typically, financial records are closed in October to be certified by the state.

LaFond said the review’s main recommendation for Franey was “do your job.’’

Franey said Monday that the treasurer’s office is unable to keep the flow of financial postings current because of problems he inherited after being voted into office four years ago.

A veteran CPA who recently became a certified Massachusetts municipal treasurer, Franey defended himself against the review’s criticism, saying his office’s performance has been slowed by the lack of the right software that would automatically post receipts and share that information with other town offices. When the town switched to new financial posting software years ago, it failed to install a full system that would electronically post receipts to a cashbook. That function is being installed, he said.

“I wanted them to come in and shine a spotlight on the situation,’’ Franey said of the review. But he doesn’t agree on switching to an appointed treasurer.

Elected treasurers have an independence that appointed ones lack, Franey said. He said in previous jobs he’s blown the whistle on problems that would never have come to light under appointed treasurers. “I’m the taxpayers’ advocate,’’ he said.

He also disagrees with the review’s recommendation of a “separation of roles’’ between town employees and selectmen. “I think every American has the right to run for office,’’ he said.

LaFond said selectmen agreed to put one of the review’s recommendations into place: the creation of an “audit committee’’ that will in turn consider the review’s other advisories, including adoption of a bylaw that would keep town employees off the board.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.