Even though he may be uniquely equipped to plumb the depths of the annual audit of the town’s financial affairs, resident Ronald Grenier believes there is no reason why you should not get to see more of the work product of the town’s independent auditor, too.
That is the theory behind Article 45, sponsored by Grenier, which has four components to it.
The first prong would direct the town’s independent auditor to include in the final audit report his or her management letter or letters, report on internal control over financial reporting, report on compliance by each major federal program and report on the schedule of expenditures of federal awards.
Grenier calls these documents the “sweet sauce” in audits.
“If you are looking for how well government funds are being managed or if there are systemic issues, they will be located there,” Grenier said.
He has reason to know. Grenier once served as the director of administration for the central artery/tunnel project, which most people know as The Big Dig.
He retired from Massachusetts state government service in 2005 after a stint as the director of audit operations for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, though he would later serve as town administrator in Newcastle, Maine.
As with at least one other citizen-sponsored Town Meeting article, Grenier has been advised through town counsel that his proposal may raise a separation-of-powers-type issue: the town’s legislative body, Town Meeting, is not permitted to direct — or “interfere” with — its executive branch, the Select Board.
But in his case, Grenier said he has faith that if the Town Meeting speaks, the relevant town officials will listen.
Select Board Chair Moses Grader confirmed as much to the Current.
“In general, I really welcome best practices, particularly those articulated in Article 45 to enhance the Comprehensive Annual Financial Review,” Grader said.
Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer added, “I definitely don’t disagree with the intent of putting more information out. If it’s addressing the lack of information being posted in the past, that’s an easy fix.”
Grenier’s article would “direct” (which may be amended to “urge,” or words to that effect) the town’s finance director to post the independent auditors’ management letters and reports to the town website and “require” (or “highly recommend”) that the auditor come to a public Select Board meeting to discuss his or her findings.
The article also asks the Select Board to establish a Town Audit Committee, starting in FY 2024.
Grader noted that the Government Finance Officers Association has bestowed awards on the town’s CAFR audits for a dozen years or more. Nonetheless, he called it a “no-brainer” to have an Audit Committee provide additional oversight of the annual process.
“However, I think the best implementation is to have the Audit Committee directly mandated by Town Meeting — much the same way FinCom is mandated — to independently oversee the audit process in town,” he added.
As he has spoken at various forums to explain his article, Grenier said the response he has gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, especially when he points out there will be no cost impact.
He added that, after speaking with Kezer, he has no reason to believe that he and the Select Board will do anything other than “read the tea leaves,” if Town Meeting approves Article 45.
“I think the town needs to understand that these are not ‘gotcha’ things,” Grenier told the audience at a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. “These are things that are going to make the government stronger, and provide the confidence and the trust on the citizenry’s part.”
Grader did not disagree.
“I think the Select Board is completely committed to best practices and enabling transparency, and has worked hard and continues to work hard to put in place the leadership, teams, processes, procedures and tech systems to execute against these high standards for the taxpayers and citizens of the town,” he said.