Amherst Finance Committee appoints non-voting members

  • Amherst Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 24, 2019

AMHERST — Three residents will get to serve on a committee overseeing the town’s financial matters, adding their voices to discussions about the budget and municipal spending over the next year.

But whether the residents appointed by the Town Council this week to the Finance Committee will continue to be on the panel as nonvoting members for the long term is uncertain, as councilors intend to evaluate their presence on the committee in the coming months.

At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, chairman of the Finance Committee, told the council Monday that he has concerns about how the three new members, Marylou Theilman, Sharon Povinelli and Robert Hegner, will change the dynamics of how the committee functions.

“It could be a benefit to the committee, it could be a detriment to the committee — we don’t know if we don’t try,” Steinberg said.

The charter adopted in March 2018 states that the committee “may include members of the public, who shall have a voice but no vote in the Finance Committee’s deliberations.”

District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis said having resident nonvoters is a good thing, opening up the committee to three more collaborators who will look at complex budget questions facing Amherst.

“I feel like we need to move forward and not stop this,” DeAngelis said.

Council President Lynn Griesemer, who also serves on the Finance Committee, said nonvoting appointments are something the charter allows, but that it is appropriate to evaluate how it works after a year, as meshing nonvoting members with councilors may lead to confusion.

“We’re just saying give it a year and see what it’s like,” Griesemer said.

District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont said the idea of the nonvoting members is to have more viewpoints than the five councilors bring. “We want to be open to all voices in town,” DuMont said.

If the council decides to keep non-councilors off the Finance Committee, especially people who may offer different ideas, it could be chilling to people who want to volunteer in town, DuMont said. “That doesn’t feel right to me,” she said.

During the extended discussion, the Town Council also talked about whether its Outreach, Communications and Appointments subcommittee had brought forward the correct residents to serve.

DuMont was the OCA designee in charge of appointments, and she interviewed and evaluated candidates with Acting Finance Director Sonia Aldrich​​​​​​.

DuMont issued a 23-page report containing the profiles of those selected, why they were recommended and demographic information about applicants, though the names of others who applied, as for all town boards and committees, is not publicly being released.

The OCA committee recommended by a 3-2 vote that Theilman should be given a one-year term, with Povinelli and Hegner each to serve two years.

DuMont said Theilman’s experience was key. “She has been on the former Finance Committee, she was the chair of the most recent Finance Committee, and she has a broad wealth of knowledge about municipal finance, the budget, and specifically Amherst finances,” DuMont said.

Povinelli, who co-owns A.J. Hastings, brings financial expertise as the treasurer of her business and the Amherst Business Improvement District, and served for one year on the previous Finance Committee, while Hegner is a newcomer.

“He really stood out to me, as having for 11 years been a senior vice president for a $1.2 billion global consulting firm,” DuMont said.

The two subcommittee members who voted against the recommendation were District 4 Councilor Evan Ross and District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz.

Ross said there was a rich pool of qualified applicants and he was concerned with Theilman because she had been on the earlier Finance Committee since 2008, and her appointment would be giving her what amounted to a fifth term.

Swartz said the committee already had institutional knowledge and didn’t see a rationale to put on someone like Theilman who had already served for so long.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.