Oxford Citizens Have Until November 14 To Give Input On Financial Advisory Committee
November 8, 2023
Debate on Two Proposals Reveals Factions in Town
When it was pointed out in a meeting in September that neither the Commissioners of Oxford nor the Town Manager/Treasurer have experience or qualifications to adequately manage the town’s millions of dollars from grants, Commission President Tom Costigan and member Katrina Greer each created proposals for an “Investment Advisory Committee” to help with that duty.
The two proposals have been posted at the Town’s website for citizens to look at and comment on prior to next week’s town meeting.
It’s not unusual for the town to assign various duties to different volunteer committees in the town. Currently, there are the following commissions: Board of Zoning Appeals, Board of Port Wardens, Historic District Commission, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation, Election Board, and Ethics Committee. Memberships range from 9 members to three. All committees have terms that vary from 3 to 5 years except the Ethics Committee which, for some odd reason, has no date of appointment or term length for members listed.
Committee members are recruited from the town based on different requirements and are approved by the Commissioners.
The Financial Advisory Committee, according to both proposals, will review the Town’s investments and make recommendations to the Commissioners of investment opportunities for the town.
The differences between the two proposals center mainly on the number of members on the committee, what their terms would be, what information about the town finances they would have access to, and what the requirements would be for membership.
Number of members/length of terms: The proposal drafted by Commission President Tom Costigan suggests three members, each having terms of three years except for the first three members who will have staggered terms of one, two and three years. Greer’s proposal requires five members who will each have terms of two years.
Information access: While Costigan’s proposal requires the Town Manager to provide reports of current funds and investments of the town, the town budget, and expenditures, Greer’s proposal goes a bit deeper, giving the committee access to “all town financial information, both direct and indirect without restriction that is available to the public via a Public Information Act request.”
Eligibility of Members: In Costigan’s proposal, only registered voters in the Town of Oxford with training and experience in investment policies and implementation would be eligible for the Committee. Greer requires that only Property Owners be permitted. They would have to have more specified training in finance including professional certifications, advanced degrees in finance, economics or accounting, and/or seven years in a professional position whose primary responsibilities are for budget, finance, or investment decisions in a large governmental, commercial, academic or non-profit organization which has an annual budget or financial assets under management of more than $100 million.
Analysis: There are plusses and minuses to each proposal. Costigan’s is a much simpler proposal while Greer’s is more detailed in nature. As we have discovered in the last eight months, “the devil is in the details” when it comes to town government. Anything left to interpretation can potentially allow Commissioners and employees to play fast and loose with policies. When serving the public, it is important that everyone is on the same page. With a little editing and “cleaning up,” the details in Greer’s proposal would get the edge on specificity and delineation of committee responsibilities and rights. Our suggestion is to take Costigan’s cleaner framework and insert details from Greer’s.
As far as how many members the committee would have, we believe that the more people you can involve in this committee, the better. The idea of five members versus three prevents the appearance of giving power to a select few and will allow for a broader cross section of the town’s population to be represented.
The terms of the appointees should be no less than three years. Limiting the length of term to two years doesn’t allow for significant, in-depth work to get done. Other official committees in town have terms from three to five years (outside the ethics committee whose term is a mystery), so the precedent has been set for this committee to also have terms of no less than three years. While the staggered terms are interesting, it’s not clear what the purpose would be to pursue that option. Our suggestion is to have five members from Greers proposal and have three-year terms, non-staggered.
Costigan’s proposal seems to limit the information that the committee would have access to while requiring them to do a quarterly review of the town’s investments. However, without access to the full picture of the town’s assets, investments, and expenditures, the committee will not have a comprehensive picture of the economic status of the town. Greer’s proposal allows the members of the committee information that would be available via public information requests, which seems reasonable. Our suggestion is to follow Greer’s access allowance here.
When it comes to eligibility requirements, neither proposal hits the mark. Costigan’s plan wants to allow only registered voters with financial background to participate. Greer, on the other hand, suggests property owners only with extensive financial experience. In reality, in a town of 650 residents, the pool of possible participants should be more open. It’s our suggestion that anyone who is a registered voter, a property owner, or a verified resident of the town be eligible. This will allow someone who rents property in Oxford to participate, which will give some long-time renters a stake in the process. After all, those who live in the town have a vested interest in how town investments fare since their rent and water/sewage bills could be impacted.
When it comes to the duties and selection process, both proposals are identical, allowing the Town Commissioners interviews, nominations, and the duty to make appointments. Both require that applicants disclose any potential financial or business conflicts.
There is a third option which is to do nothing at all. Based on the input from people at town meetings, that option is not satisfactory considering that the amount of money that runs through the town coffers is in the millions. Also, auditor’s reports from the past seven years seem to indicate that more financial oversight and advice is called for:
With such differences on the elements of each proposal, perhaps an ad hoc committee made up of citizens such as the one that created the town’s hiring policy would be the way to go. In that way, the citizens of the town are guaranteed a thorough and complete review of the proposals by citizens and a way to merge these ideas into one effective, working policy. It was an effective process before, why not now?
ADDITIONAL NOTES: While some are using this issue to promote and protect certain employees/elected officials and divide the town, others just want a reasonable, transparent process that will provide accountability and a solution to the issue of investment expertise and financial responsibility in our small town.
A recent email sent to some citizens by a well-known local real estate agent stated those looking for accountability are making allegations of “corruption and grift” in the town administration. This is patently untrue. Questioning the actions of elected officials and public employees is the ultimate check and balance on government whether at the local, county, state or federal government. When actions are taken that could be suspect, it is the citizen’s right to question those actions and demand disclosure.
The email stated that the small group questioning actions of the town had “personal grievances or a different version of what Oxford should be. Period.” Again, if questioning the actions of a public employee or official is “personal” then I suggest that the person who wrote the email should never question another public employee or official about how government is being run. It is a Constitutional right of the citizens “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If he doesn’t want to avail himself of that right, so be it.
In fact, the “personal” attacks have come from those who want the status quo in Oxford. Members of our “small” group (which isn’t small at all) have been insulted and chastised for exposing the truth. We’ve been told our opinions shouldn’t matter and we should sit down, shut up and stop asking questions.
The writer says we want a different version of “what Oxford should be” from what he wants. If that means we believe our version of Oxford should be a town where public business is not hidden or limited to a privileged few, the writer is correct, our version is different. In our version no matter how many buildings one has built, sold, designed, worked on, etc. or how many county committees that person has been on, no matter how many fancy government positions that person has held, how expensive his house is or what his bank account holds, and no matter how long that person has lived in town, that person has no more right to state their opinions or ideas than the normal middle class working Oxford citizen who raised or is raising a family here and has lived here for fifty, five, or one year(s). The average citizen sees things going on and asks questions. Their questions demand respect and answers.
Our vision of Oxford is what it used to be; a place where we didn’t have to have these debates. The rights of the citizens were understood.
The two proposals can be found here:
Per the meeting, citizen comments regarding these proposals or the third option of “No Committee Needed” should be forward to firstname.lastname@example.org for dissemination to all Commissioners prior to the meeting. (WE SUGGEST YOU COPY THE COMMISSIONERS AS WELL TO ASSURE YOUR RESPONSES ARE RECEIVED)
email@example.com (Katrina Greer)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Tom Costigan)
email@example.com (Susan Delean Botkin)