FRAMINGHAM - During their meeting on November 9, multiple Framingham City Councilors voiced their intentions to ensure more financial transparency in municipal manners.
The topic was placed on the agenda following a request from District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini in an attempt to make more records available to the public. A sheet of the city’s expenditures has been taken offline after originally being available to the public, while Stefanini added that he and other members of the Finance Subcommittee have requested data multiple times this year to little avail, as he claimed that they have only gotten a small amount of information.
“I’m not trying to be difficult, but it’s hard to analyze and look at information when the reports we’ve requested, the reports we’ve voted for, the things we’ve asked for just aren’t being delivered—which is why I asked to put this on the agenda: because I wasn’t sure how else to get it,” Stefanini told Mayor Charlie Sisitsky and other attendees.
One of those people at the meeting was Chief Financial Officer and Director of Administration and Finance for Framingham Louise Miller. She noted that the city does not currently have an accountant or an assistant account available, meaning that the city’s Technology Services Department would have to investigate how long it would take to develop the stats that Stefanini had referenced.
District 6 City Councilor and Chair of the Council Phil Ottaviani contended that officials “need to get to the bottom of” these operations.
“We need to tighten some things up, we really do,” Ottaviani said.
“How do we run a $400 million corporation without an accountant and an assistant accountant? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Miller explained that staffing shortages across the municipal government landscape along with a lack of competitive compensation for accounting roles have made the situation difficult to navigate. She added that recruiting is being carried out for the accounting role, as the city has reached out to agencies in an effort to fill the position. Former City Accountant Richard Howarth—who worked for Framingham for nearly three decades before stepping away earlier this year—is helping the city close out the 2023 fiscal year, according to Miller.
“It is a problem right now, that there is a shortage of accountants,” Miller continued.
“There’s a shortage of treasure collectors, and there’s a shortage of assessors in the state.”
In the meantime, Miller mentioned that she’s taken more responsibility to ensure finances are being reviewed, such as checking payroll matters and purchase orders. Stefanini was concerned that those optics could be bad due to a perceived lack of checks and balances, though Miller mentioned that the entire purchasing and payment process has layers to it that involve multiple facets within the municipal government.
Miller explained that the city is no longer paying for the online bookkeeping service that Stefanini originally mentioned. District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon asked Miller if that meant that the city has “chosen to be less transparent,” an assessment that Miller disagreed with. She explained that Framingham had switched accounting software during Yvonne Spicer’s mayoral tenure. Miller said that the city is working towards bringing the original accounting software, OpenGov, back into the fold.
“We’ve all talked a lot about transparency, and this is a really important way to be meaningful with our words,” Cannon said.
The City Council voted to refer the topic to the Finance Subcommittee. The full meeting can be found by clicking here.
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