Carver’s assistant tax collector defeated her boss soundly at the ballot box last weekend, outpolling the incumbent by a surprisingly lopsided vote of 1,401 to 789.
John Franey, who is also a selectman, had served two three-year terms as treasurer-tax collector.
In an interview Monday, Paula Nute, the assistant tax collector for the past 9½ years, said she believes in “getting the job done.” Her campaign was based on bringing the town’s financial record-keeping up to par; the town’s financial management has been the subject of a series of reports from the state’s Department of Revenue, pointing to persistent shortcomings in posting important financial information in a timely fashion.
The state audits have said the time lag of many months in posting receipts and invoices leaves the town in the dark about its financial state and could even lead to irregularities.
“I’m going to bring the office back to where the Department of Revenue wants it to be,” Nute, 48, said, by keeping account reconciliation and postings within four weeks of the present day.
Currently, she said, three of the town’s major accounts are 10 months behind and others are also behind. If the receipts aren’t posted, town departments such as schools don’t know whether funds are available.
Franey had blamed his office’s failure to keep up on the loss of a full-time staff position. But Nute said Franey had six years to make the situation better.
While admitting to being “stunned” by the magnitude of the vote differential, Franey said Monday that he lost because a group of supporters for a new elementary school decided to get him out of office after his vote against a measure they backed last fall.
At a meeting in December, Franey voted as a member of the Board of Selectmen against sending a “statement of interest” to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to seek funding for a new elementary school. Franey said he voted no at that time because the statement had not yet been written.
After that vote, he said, a school supporter told him, “’We have a thousand votes for your opponent, whoever that happens to be.’”
Franey said “a bad audit report” released last month also worked against him. He said the auditor conducted the audit last October but did not release the report until April, the month of the election.
Nute also pointed to the school issue in building her support in a contest she said she did not expect to win so decisively. She earned the votes of school supporters by running in tandem with Selectman Dick Ward, who won reelection decisively last week. The two endorsed each other’s candidacy and both strongly backed a long-stymied school construction project to replace the town’s two deteriorating elementary school buildings.
“I believe that it went the way it did because we worked very hard,” Nute said.
Ward, who defeated challenger Paul Johnson by a vote of 1,441 to 778 for a third three-year term, said he backed Nute because the town received repeated audit reports pointing to inadequacies in the operations of the treasurer-tax collector department, and Franey “was not following up on the audit reports.”
“We were constantly behind. He was not balancing the books and getting the information to the town, and acting in a timely manner,” Ward said. “The conclusion was he’s not capable of doing the job.”
Nute, he said, “knows the job” from her years in the department.
Heather Sepulveda, one of the parents who became active in local politics after school construction projects three times failed to win support at the polls, said she was “overjoyed” by “the overwhelming response” for the candidates who backed the school project.
She said school supporters used Facebook in a campaign to reach out to voters from young parents to seniors.
A school “coattails” factor appeared to play a big role as the vote totals for the two winners were very close and the turnout of 28 percent was high for a town election in Carver.
Nute said she was grateful to voters for overlooking an attack on the relative slightness of her credentials. At a debate broadcast on local cable TV, Franey “kept putting it out that I don’t have the CPA, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree.” She said she does possess a Massachusetts municipal tax collector certification and is close to earning her state certification as a treasurer as well.
Franey, who is a CPA, said he plans to work in the private accounting industry.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said. “Best of luck to Paula.”
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.