SHIRLEY — Former selectman Norman Albert called the Board of Selectmen on the carpet several weeks ago over its — and previous boards’ — use of MCI funds over the last 15 years.
At the Nov. 10 selectmen’s meeting, Albert asked the board to appoint him and two other residents — Kevin Hayes and Fred Hyde — to a budget oversight committee that would look into the matter and report back to the selectmen and townspeople.
Albert said the group’s aim is to examine the minutes of past meetings in an attempt to determine how nearly $10 million in MCI money has been spent.
“Our purpose would be to review all past expenditures of MCI grant funds,” he said. A parallel aim, apparently, is to demystify the process by which the selectmen, as sole custodians of the account, tapped the fund almost dry. “Most residents don’t understand how it all works,” Albert said.
But Selectman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio said that if people don’t understand, they can ask the board. They may not understand how taxes are calculated, either, he reasoned, “but there’s a Board of Assessors for that.”
Every time the selectmen decide to use MCI money — to buy a police cruiser, refurbish a fire truck or purchase land to build a new school, for example — they either vote to do so at a public selectmen’s meeting or authorize the town administrator to do so on their behalf, he said.
“We have a list of what the MCI dollars were spent on,” Guercio said. And it’s all done in public, in an open meeting that, for the last few years at least, is filmed for cable TV.
“What credentials do you have to analyze the information?” Guercio asked Albert.
In addition to his time as a selectman, Albert said he served for seven years on the Finance Committee. “I think that qualifies me,” he said.
Guercio backpedaled. It had not been his intent to question Albert’s ability to understand financial data, he said, but to determine what he plans to do if he “finds an expenditure he doesn’t consider ‘proper.'” Albert didn’t deny such a thing could happen, but insisted the effort is worthwhile. “People have a right to know,” he said.
State statute validates the selectmen’s right to control the account and town counsel agrees, Guercio countered.
But Albert insisted the selectmen should have done things differently. If selectmen had sought public input on the expenditures, he said, townspeople would have been more aware and the oversight group might not be necessary.
Albert asked for work space in the Town Office building, noting the need to access meeting minutes and receipts. Town administrator Kyle Keady said he’d need more details if such arrangements were to be made.
The board expressed concern about the group disrupting the work of town employees while asking for help as they pore over 15 years of documents. Hayes assured the selectmen the group would be frugal with town employees’ time.
The board voted two to one to appoint the review committee. Guercio voted no.