The Bedford Finance Committee’s most vocal fiscal conservative abruptly resigned on Thursday, telling fellow members that “it is apparent tough questions are not welcome without fear of retribution.”
Elizabeth McClung contended that “I assume I would not be reappointed at the end of my current term as I am not willing to blindly follow without questioning.” The term expires June 30, 2025.
McClung referred to the decision by the Finance Committee appointing authority to deny reappointment of former members Erica Liu and Steve Steele, and charged that “I do not believe there is sufficient respect for differing committee opinions.”
Last month the appointing authority, in an unprecedented action, decided to replace Liu and Steele, both of whom had voted against a proposed municipal budget increase in February. The budget was approved 5-4; the other opponents were McClung and Ronald O’Brien. Liu, McClung, and Steele also opposed the capital budget. There were no negative votes on the education budget.
Finance Committee members and applicants were interviewed by the appointing authority over a span of three meetings in June and July, but there was no discussion among the members before the vote to replace Liu and Steele with Philip Prince and George Lee.
McClung, reading from a prepared statement during the “public comment” segment of the agenda, said, “It appeared to me that the problem stemmed from asking for supporting data to justify a salary increase that was multiples of the FinCom guideline amount for a certain staff member, and that staff member was a family member of the town moderator, who was one of the three making the appointing decision.”
The questions at that meeting more than six months ago were about the magnitude of the salary increase, and Town Manager Sarah Stanton pushed back, pointing out that the so-called merit article is a blanket allocation from which she can designate at her discretion merit raises to non-union staff.
As defined in the town charter, members of the Finance Committee are appointed by the chair of the Select Board, the Moderator, and the chair of the Finance Committee. Appointment must be by unanimous vote.
O’Brien was the first to read a prepared statement during the “public comment” period. He alleged that the appointing authority “salted the earth with a narrative to vilify Steve and Erica,” whom he called “two smart, productive, and thoughtful Finance Committee leaders.” He alleged that they were not reappointed “due to their questioning of town leadership.
“True leadership builds organizations, it does not tear them down or vilify members due to differences of opinion,” said O’Brien, whose term expires on June 30, 2024. “Our current town leadership does not understand to lead is to serve.”
McClung’s statement continued, “I hope the FinCom can return to appreciating a healthy debate and open communication. I hope the town understands that diversity of thought and personality also keeps Bedford healthy.”
She concluded by announcing her resignation, and then walked out of the room.