Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 5, 2013

Debate lingers over future of town accountant post

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@andovertownsman.com

---- — A plan to reconfigure the town accountant’s job has hit a snag as the two selectmen on a subcommittee reviewing the position can’t agree on how to proceed.

Selectmen Dan Kowalski and Mary Lyman have been holding meetings for months to discuss how and whether to restructure the position given the impending retirement of the current accountant, Rodney Smith.

Smith, 63, who earns about $110,000 a year, is ending his career in November after 33 years on the job.

At their last subcommittee meeting, Lyman and Kowalski came to a stark conclusion.

“We don’t agree,” Kowalski said. “Mary wants to leave it as it is, and I want to redefine the accounting position and include new responsibilities.”

Lyman added, “We have studied this to death. I want to keep it the way it is because of the authority that goes with the position.”

What’s at stake, she said, is information and accountability.

Under the town charter, the Board of Selectmen appoints the town accountant. But while the town accountant is hired by selectmen, the position reports to the town manager in day-to-day operations.

Lyman said she wants to leave the current arrangement as is because she wants the town accountant to have access to the selectmen in case anything comes up that needs their attention.

“I want to make sure he has a direct line to us to make us aware of things,” she said. “If an issue comes up when (the accountant) has to report something to the selectmen, that person needs to feel supported to be able to shut something down.”

For example, she said, she believes large buyouts made to former employees in the past should have been reviewed by selectmen. But Smith, when asked, has told selectmen they weren’t informed about a particular buyout because “the town manager signed off on it.”

Or, she said, Smith would tell Donna Walsh, the town finance director, who would pass the information on to selectmen.

More recently, she said, selectmen didn’t know that a police officer had been placed on paid administrative leave following a suspected drunken driving incident earlier this year. See related story, page 1.

“They didn’t tell us about the cop,” she said, adding that she had to read about it in last Friday’s edition of The Eagle-Tribune, the Andover Townsman’s sister newspaper.

Lyman said the accountant position is about more than just accounting. It requires someone with a knowledge of union contracts and how to interpret them. She said someone with a law degree would be ideal. The new accountant also needs to know how to get along with the leaders of other town departments, including the public works, police, fire and finance departments, the town library as well as the town clerk.

Kowalski, meanwhile, agreed that the accountant needs to have a direct line of communication with the Board of Selectmen. But he wants to incorporate the position into the Finance Department as assistant finance director.

“Now, it’s two separate organizations,” he said.

At the next selectmen’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 9, Lyman and Kowalski will make their case for change to the board and Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski.

“Buzz has authority under the charter to reorganize departments,” Kowalski said. “But the town accountant is a direct report of the Board of Selectmen. We need to make sure wherever that position is placed in the organization is good for us and for Buzz.”

As for the town accountant himself, Smith thinks things have been working fine.

“It’s their prerogative to go through this,” he said. “This position is unique in that I report to the Board of Selectmen. But I haven’t had problems in the way it’s been administered in the last 30-some-odd years. Could it be better? I don’t know.”

Smith added that he’s had an “excellent working relationship with Buzz and (former town manager) Ken Mahoney prior to him. This town is very good in that way.”

Lyman said she had hoped the issue would have been resolved by now and a job description could have been posted so that the town could advertise and hire someone before Smith leaves.