By Neil Fater
---- — Three Andover men say they are launching a website they hope will raise public awareness and promote discussion of how much the town spends on things such as employee salaries, benefits and pensions.
The site, called townofandover.com, launches today and says it provides “no spin, just facts and a little fun.”
But the site does have a spin or attitude of its own. While the site was not yet live, the home page being worked on prior to the launch and shared with the Townsman said, “If the highest priority of the Andover community is to provide generous salaries and lifetime healthcare and retirement benefits for town employees, then we are right on track.”
The site is being created by former Finance Committee member Greg Rigby, who has an Andover wealth management firm; Bob Landry, who has a Harvard MBA and works in the health-care field, and Bob Pokress, who has served as CEO of three companies.
The site includes information such as a list of what all town employees make, they said.
“While I felt that things were overly generous and overly rich, [when] I actually saw the spreadsheets that Bob got through his Freedom of Information request I almost fell off my chair,” said Pokress.
“While the school dept has over 25 people making over $100,000 a year, which seems a staggering number in its own rite, the town side with far fewer employees has three times as many people making more than $100,00 a year,” said Pokress. “I think most people in town would be staggered to see it, considering the stories being spun out of town hall about why they need budgets as big as what these budget are to do what they’re doing.”
“The direction we’re looking, it is not against town employees. It’s not against town unions for what they’ve negotiated. The unions have done an excellent job of doing what their constituents wanted. They’ve negotiated incredible contracts with incredible benefits,” said Rigby. “The problem is we’re constituents of the selectmen and the town manager... The Board of Selectmen over time has laid down and accepted what was coming along and never understood the long-term ramifications.”
The three say they are concerned about the approximately $400 million in unfunded liabilities the town owes to retirees in the form of benefits and pensions. While many communities share such issues, they believe Andover should be doing more to tackle the problem.
They said it can be difficult and expensive to acquire public information they’ve requested, so they want to share the documents and information they have. The information is presented with a hint of humor, such as through the use of cartoons.
“We’re trying to do it with a little bit of humor, to be a little provocative. It’s really meant to start the conversation and engage people,” said Landry. “This will help them engage more, by seeing what the bigger issues are.”
“We have the opportunity to control and run our own town. Very few of us get engaged because its very difficult to understand the issues and understand the numbers that are put forward,” said Rigby.