Split Newport council rejects proposed citizen finance commissionA divided Newport City Council voted last week to kill a proposal to establish a financial advisory commission, a move that surprised one council member who had planned to make a formal proposal on the issue next month.
A divided Newport City Council voted last week to kill a proposal to establish a financial advisory commission, a move that surprised one council member who had planned to make a formal proposal on the issue next month.
Mayor Tim Geraghty — along with council members Tom Ingemann and Bill Sumner —voted 3-2 to oppose the informally proposed advisory group that a group of residents first brought forward late last year. Geraghty, Ingemann and Sumner all face re-election in November.
Ingemann urged the council to “put this finance committee to rest for this year, at least.” Later, he added: “It needs to go to bed for now.”
Council member Steven Gallagher had asked that the city further examine the idea of a volunteer commission similar to the city’s planning or parks boards to offer advice on city finance issues. Gallagher had intended to make a formal proposal to the council next month. He expressed surprise the issue came to a vote at Thursday’s council meeting.
Gallagher and councilor Tracy Rahm voted against the council motion to reject the finance commission plan.
“We’re doing just fine, OK?” Geraghty told resident Dave Engfer, who informally pitched the commission to the council again at a meeting last month. The mayor said he wanted to push up a vote on the issue because he didn’t see a need for more financial oversight.
‘More viewpoints, better decisions’
Geraghty expressed skepticism at the proposal last month, saying he felt it was a politically motivated issue being brought forward by a group that has opposed him politically and includes former Mayor Kevin Chapdelaine among its members. Geraghty beat Chapdelaine in 2008.
“Putting all that aside, nothing is broken,” Geraghty said in an interview when asked why he voted to scuttle the proposal. “There’s nothing to fix.”
A recent annual audit, delivered to the council last month, gave Newport’s finances a generally positive review with one exception: the city’s small staff doesn’t allow it to divvy up accounting tasks among employees as much as is preferred, according to the report conducted by auditing firm MMKR. It is a finding common among small cities, the report said.
A finance committee would not have alleviated that concern, officials said, because state statute prevents the city from farming out its financial responsibilities. Rahm and Gallagher, however, argued the group would have provided more transparency and a wider variety of financial and budgetary advice.
“You get more eyes, more viewpoints” with an advisory commission, Rahm said. “When you get more [viewpoints on an issue] you make better decisions.”
Geraghty, Ingemann and Sumner asserted the city had already made moves to improve the city’s financial transparency, changes that include new accounting software installed by the city last year that will allow detailed reports to be more easily shared with the public.
Gallagher, for his part, said he didn’t understand why his fellow council members were unwilling to consider the plan.
“It seemed like, to me, minds were already made up,” he said in an interview.