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Correcting CCA Falsehoods, Again

Recently, an article was released by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance Steering Committee, which detailed information on the Charlestown 2024 Financial Referendum. This article will attempt to clarify and counter the inaccuracies and misinformation contained within the publication. First, I apologize for the delay in response, as it takes time to gather facts to properly present them to the citizens of Charlestown. Below, you will find a point-by-point accounting of information contained in the original article and the factual information I will provide.


CCA: "In previous years the Town Council sent a mail ballot via the U.S. Postal Service to each of the Town's registered voters to make voting on the budget better reflect the will of our voters. However, the town council has discontinued this citizen outreach, and significant reduction in participation is expected. Why?


Let's unpack this one step at a time, "In previous years the Town Council sent a mail ballot via the U.S. Postal Service to each of the town's registered voters to make voting on the budget better reflect the will of our voters." No, the previous Council sent a mail ballot via USPS because the Emergency Declaration in 2020 (Executive Order 20-02, found Here) for the COVID-19 pandemic was active, and it was clear that our election process was going to need to be modified (Executive Order 20-74 found Here). At the time, the Town Administrator proposed supplying each voter with a mail ballot, and the Board of Canvassers (the board responsible for running our elections) made it happen. It is the same as this current Town Council did for last year's Financial Referendum. The cost associated with it (approximately $18,000) was included in each of the Board of Canvassers budgets of F.Y. 21-22, 22-23, and 23-24 (last year's budget approved by the current Council).


"However, the town council has discontinued this citizen outreach, and significant reduction in participation is expected. Why?" Governor McKee allowed the extension of the Emergency Declaration to expire in May of 2023. At the time, last year's mail ballot mailing was already underway. In the spring of 2024, the Board of Canvassers consented that it was no longer necessary to expend the funds for the townwide mail ballot mailing. Mail ballots have been returned to pre-pandemic procedures, where they are available upon request.

The bottom line is that before 2020, Charlestown did not send mail ballots to every voter. This Council did not actively eliminate sending mail ballots to every voter, and the previous Councils did not send mail ballots "to make voting on the budget better reflect the will of our voters." Two hundred fifty-six votes were cast in this year's election. When you remove the COVID-19 years and the years in which the budget was rejected ('19, '16, ‘'15), over the last 20 years, the average budget vote was 297 voters or 7%. After reviewing the data (available from the Town Clerk), I think it is most likely worth looking for the future to determine whether the cost is worth the increased vote (average 20%) by mailing ballots to all residents. More participation is never a bad thing.


CCA: "The Budget Commission delivered its budget on time in spite of the upheaval in the Town's Finance Department caused when the Town Council president forced out its professional Town Administrator, lost its Treasurer, and caused two auditing firms to decline to return.


First, the Town Council President did not force out the Town Administrator. The President is only one member of the Council and would need a vote of the majority to remove the Town

Administrator, a vote which was never even brought before the Council. Second, the past Town Administrator resigned in January, with an effective date of February 13, exactly ten years from his date of hire and the same day he became the Berkley, MA Town Administrator (a job which had a closing application deadline the day after the current Council was elected, some three months before he resigned).


"The Budget Commission delivered its budget on time in spite of the upheaval in the town's Finance Department…" The Budget Commission is required to deliver its recommended budget on time to the Council by the Town Charter. § C-79 D. of the Charter states, "The Budget Commission shall complete its consideration of the budget, including all necessary conferences with the Council, Administrator, department representatives, Charlestown School Committee, citizens and private corporations, no later than March 31…".


"[The Town] lost its treasurer, and caused two auditing firms to decline to return." Under the past administrator, the previous Town Treasurer left shortly after his departure. A qualified treasurer was hired, who departed several months later to take a job with the Rhode Island Auditor General. A new (current) Treasurer was hired in October of 2023, before the start of the budget process. So, to say "upheaval" is a bit more creative writing and a bit less fact.


Now, on to the two auditing firms. One declined to return under the previous CCA majority Council after several financial issues, including the three-million-dollar accounting error came to light. At the time, the Council hired Marcum L.L.P. to conduct the Town's audit for one year, with an optional extension for a second. After the first audit conducted by Marcum, they attempted to charge the Town an additional $55,992 for additional services beyond the initial audit. Several attempts by this Council were made to get a detailed accounting of the extra charges but were unsuccessful. The Council refused to pay the $55,992 and was able to negotiate a reduced bill of $18,000 with the added condition that the Council declined to retain Marcum's services for this year's audit. If the name Marcum L.L.P. sounds familiar, it is because shortly after this Council issues, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission released a statement noting that Marcum L.L.P. had committed "systemic quality control failures" and agreed to pay a $10 million fine (S.E.C. June 2023 news release here).


I'll end this here and possibly leave the rest for part 2. The original article referenced is one more example of "when the facts are inconvenient, make up the facts." I am sure some of the errors presented in the original article are simply because the writers don't have all the facts. Hopefully, in the future, they will take the time to consider the whole picture, not just the narrative they want you to see. But I guess if they did that, you may see that things are running well, taxes are low, and the Town is as beautiful as ever. Unfortunately for the writers, the truth may not make the voters mad enough to vote out this Council. It's a shame, really, if the original article's authors spent half as much time trying to work together with this Council as they do writing unflattering narratives; imagine where we could be then. I fear that may not be in the cards… but I've been wrong before.






Stephen Stokes,

Charlestown Town Councilor

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