Stoneham Selectman's Attempt To Wipe Out Retirement Board Defeated At Town Meeting

JULY 06 - Selectmen Suffer Second Defeat, Salaries Wiped Out - Angered voters at Stoneham’s May Town Meeting roundly rejected an article that would have turned the Stoneham Retirement Board and its duties over to the State Retirement Board. The Town Meeting article was sponsored by the five-member Stoneham Board of Selectmen, and given a favorable recommendation by the Finance Advisory Committee.

Selectman John DePinto, who had an axe to grind with the Retirement Board, was the moving force behind the article. DePinto, a first term selectman, was critical of the Board when its members silently killed a suggestion made by Town Administrator Ron Florino that the fifth seat on the Retirement Board be advertised to all interested parties.

Instead, the Board went ahead and unanimously voted to reappoint Janice Houghton to a new three-year term on the Board. The Board then went on to name Houghton as Board Chairman, a title she had held prior to her term expiring.

DePinto was quoted as saying, “that sounds like a Kangaroo Court to me. I can’t see how a board could refuse to advertise and just snub their noses at the rest of us like that.”

Elsie Wallace, an elected member of the Stoneham Retirement Board, said “The Board has the right to choose whomever they want as long as it’s not a member of the Stoneham Retirement System. There was no need to advertise.”

Wallace also pointed out that the selectmen’s appointee on the Board, Ron Florino, was named to the Board only after the selectmen advertised, but failed to receive a single letter asking to be appointed.

At Town Meeting, DePinto said that a comparison has been made to the cost of running the Stoneham Retirement Board to other surrounding towns. He said that Stoneham’s yearly cost of $261,000 is on average 130 percent higher than other towns.

Jan Houghton voiced some frustration with the article and felt there was a smear campaign “about a lousy job done by the Retirement Board.” Houghton also said that the survey of local retirement boards didn’t accurately scrutinize all expenses for those towns, giving a skewed view of the Stoneham Retirement Board’s administrative expenses.

“The $4.1 million you’re paying this year is for the retirement benefits accrued by past town workers and current town employees,” said Houghton. “Has the Town Retirement Board done a good job of controlling expenses? Yes, they have. What you should be looking at is the actual cost – actual checks and all money going out – for the retirement board, and we are well within the surrounding towns and communities.”

Retirement Board member Jim McDermott, Jr., a retired fire captain, was incensed by the actions of fellow Board member Ron Florino at Town Meeting. Florino has been a member of the Board for 17 years, the first fifteen as the Town Accountant and most recent two years as Town Administrator.

“At Town Meeting, Ron said that he wants to hold the Retirement Board accountable and one of his biggest hang-ups is the Board’s budget,” McDermott reported.  “I’ve been a Board member for ten years and Ron Florino has voted for every budget. I don’t know where his accountability talk is coming from, especially at Town Meeting… And coming from him as a Board member.”

McDermott went on to praise fellow Board members Elsie Wallace and Janice Houghton for the work they did both prior to Town Meeting and during Town Meeting. “Elsie and Janice did a terrific job of contacting our retirement system members and speaking on the floor. Also, former Board member Bill Abbott and others who spoke on the floor…”

“Open Town Meetings where any voter can speak can be painful at times,” said Association President Ralph White. “I’m certain it was painful to the selectmen and other who were rebuffed by the voters. It was a knee-jerk reaction to begin with… Local retirees belong with their local board, not the state’s.”

More Pain for Selectmen

To add further pain to the Stoneham Selectmen, Jean Craige made a motion that the five-member Board’s stipends, a total of $15,000 ($3,000 each) be removed from the budget. “I ask you to make the total $0 and save the town $15,000 for the total. This is our time to make decisions,” she said from the floor.

Town Meeting members, many upset by the Selectmen’s approval of a FY’07 trash fee, went on to roundly approve stripping the Board of Selectmen’s $3,000 stipends.

Although there was no connection between the Retirement Board vote and the selectmen’s stipend repeal vote, many retirees have noted that Jean Craige is the daughter of a Stoneham retiree, Clem Duonolo, a former building inspector. Also, Craige had earlier served 14 years on the School Committee,  an unpaid elected post.