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  • Dennis Skey, Brookline

    Hattie B. photo
  • Dennis Skey of Brookline

    Hattie B. photo
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Resident wants towns to be accountable

BROOKLINE – Dennis Skey has launched a one-man campaign to make town government more accountable, and he wants to inspire elected officials and taxpayers to join him.

Skey is using the Internet to post public documents that reflect the town’s spending and policy decisions, following the lead of The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C. The Sunlight Foundation encourages journalists and the public to ask local and state governments for information, available under the Right to Know Law, that brings to light how government works.

Skey said it was the recent controversy in the police department, leading to the firing of Sgt. Michael Kurland, that pushed him to take action.

He also questioned the town’s hiring of Police Chief William Quigley, given Quigley had retired from the state and was collecting a pension.

Quigley and the town were cited by the state Retirement System after Quigley was found to be working full-time hours during his first four months on the job.

For Skey, a 15-year town resident, the issue is the town’s lack of policies in many departments.

“There are no procurement plans, no open market bidding,” he said. “There’s no way to exactly trace back where money is actually being spent because there are no procurement orders.”

To conduct his research, Skey is using his background as an electrical engineer and verification consultant for the electronics industry.

“I can actually use my profession to test if a government system is working properly, if the proper information is provided,” Skey said. “Government systems are just that, a system, and one can apply assertions to test the rules and timing of all the functions that operate if they are properly presented to the public. The more closed (the system is), the more defects will be discovered. But this is a good thing because it will tell you where you are broken before it becomes too expensive to fix.”

Skey went to the Sunshine Review Web site, sunshinereview.org, which includes a 10-point checklist used to rate governments. He recently told selectmen that according to the Web site, the town’s ranking was extremely low.

Neighboring communities, including Hollis and Amherst, and SAU 41 aren’t doing much better, he said.

Technology allows governments to post information quickly and easily, Skey argued. The process, he stressed, utilizes logic, not blame.

“It’s to fix it and get it right. … to put those tools into place and go about our daily life without backbiting,” Skey said.

In Brookline, he said, “The system is good up to a point, but there is no finance department, no policy about who validates department spending, and no real accounting going on there.”

During two recent Monday night presentations to the Board of Selectmen, he discussed the notion of “transparency.”

“I questioned if the selectmen are actually checking these things (invoices for spending), and they agreed, we need help,” he said of the discussion. “This has been going on for how many years? They said ‘we need help.’ ”

Selectmen recently began discussing the merits of hiring a town administrator, given the demands of overseeing town spending, and the lack of time necessary to thoroughly vet the weekly invoices before they are approved.

“They act like a start-up company. You get stuff done, and it’s working. The town is growing and nobody really checks the finances. … But this one thing breaks, the issue with Kurland,” he said.

Kurland’s disciplinary hearing revealed that the police department lacked a policy related to officers’ uniform accounts and revealed that other departments were in the same boat.

“They created policies to look at invoices in the police department. But I said, ‘Why are they only checking back against spending in the police department? Why aren’t they doing it across the board?’ I found out there’s no finance department, no policy for procurement. I asked if there could there be a policy for procurement, and I was told, ‘We don’t need one,’” Skey said.

Rena Duncklee, the board’s executive assistant, is the go-to person for information about spending and policies. There is little, if anything, however, in writing.

Skey said the town’s future depends on public surveillance.

“We want to go to the next step, do exactly what the electronics industry does,” he said. “If we don’t apply the tools, we are going down. It’s the end of the business plan.”

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or hbernstein@cabinet.com.