Methuen City Council forgoes hiring fiscal analyst

Bill Kirk, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
·3 min read

Apr. 28—METHUEN — Even though the City Council went through the process of changing the city charter to create the position of fiscal analyst, councilors are now saying they don't want it.

In 2019 and again in 2020, the council voted in favor of creating the analyst's job as part of the overall reorganization of the city's Administration and Finance Department, following state oversight of the city budget in the wake of the $4 million loan the city was forced to take out to help the School Department.

The analyst, according to the charter change that was recently approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, "would continually review and examine all books, accounts, bills and vouchers of the city" and then report back to the council on their findings.

It was, in effect, a watchdog for the council who would work in the Finance Department.

Although the position is now an official part of city government, and money is in the budget to fund it, councilors are saying the post is unnecessary.

Instead, they say, they would like to hire a part-time clerk in the City Council office to help Linda Gagnon, who is the council's full-time clerk.

"I'm in favor of a fiscal analyst but I'd rather get a city council clerk," City Councilor Allison Saffie said at last week's meeting. "My preference is to get Linda Gagnon help in the office."

She cited a resolution — passed at last week's meeting — that would create a law library, requiring the scanning of "tons of documents."

Councilor Eunice Zeigler, who proposed the idea of creating a "law library," agreed.

"I'd like to get Linda help," she said. "We have managed the pandemic without a fiscal analyst. I'd be in favor of us getting additional clerical support in the City Council office."

Zeigler and other councilors noted that the city's Finance Department, headed by Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Maggie Duprey, had been very cooperative in supplying financial information to the council over the past year or so, making the fiscal analyst's job redundant.

The analyst's job actually existed before the charter change, and was held by Kellie Hebert from December 2019 to December 2020. Hebert, the former Hamilton town administrator, now works as a town administrator in Sterling.

Councilors said while they were lucky to have someone with Hebert's experience in the position, many of them felt that her talents were wasted because she never had full access to the city's finances.

"What we did with that fiscal analyst position, I don't think it worked," said councilor James McCarty.

Council Chairman Steve Saba said the problem was partly technological because Hebert was never able to gain access to the multiple data platforms used by different departments in the city.

"I worked closely with her when I was chairman of the Finance Committee and I'd say, 'Kelly, can we get this report?' Then she'd go to the CAFO and get the report," Saba said. "We could do that. She didn't have access. There was always a delay in getting information."

Saba said he would be putting in a request for funding for a part-time position for an assistant to Linda Gagnon in next year's budget.