Skip to main content
Marblehead Blocks Access to Financial Information

New Policy Denies Access to Information About Town Investments 

As follow-up to our multi-part series regarding tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being held at suboptimal interest rates, Marblehead Beacon regularly requests information pertaining to town funds held at various banks.


For several months, Treasurer Rachel Blaisdell had been responsive to our requests, providing us with the breakdown of institutions at which the money is being held, as well as cash balances and corresponding interest rates. 


On June 29, 2023, we received an email from the town’s Finance Director and CFO – Aleesha Nunley Benjamin – stating that in an effort to combat fraud, she had instituted a policy in which the names of the financial institutions would no longer be disclosed. We responded, asking for clarification on how fraud would be prevented by redacting this basic information, and she replied that “a person could impersonate us and provide banking information to gain access to our accounts and withdraw funds or change banks.” She added that “[t]o prevent this type of fraud the Town will share the institution type and amount of interest earned as protection, transparency, and good governance of town funds.”


As we relayed to Benjamin, the refusal to identify the institutions holding taxpayer money represents a loss of transparency and accountability for Marblehead citizens, making it impossible to analyze the relationships between and among town officials, banking institutions, and corresponding benefits and interest rates at each bank. In other words, a news organization or citizen seeking to clarify potential conflicts of interest and hold town officials accountable for their decisions will be left without essential information. 


Fraud prevention is undoubtedly an admirable goal. In fact, as Marblehead Beacon reported earlier this year, National Grand Bank (NGB) – long the repository of a significant portion of the town’s money – lacked a common fraud-prevention measure called “positive pay,” a mechanism by which a financial institution cross-checks information on checks to flag potential fraud.


Sometime after Marblehead Beacon reported on the lack of positive pay, we learned that the town was planning to pull its payroll out of NGB and migrate to Eastern Bank, where positive pay is available. Last month Blaisdell advised us that this transition would go into effect June 1, 2023, though we later learned that the date had been postponed to mid-June. Marblehead Beacon has not yet been able to confirm whether or not all town payroll has migrated away from NGB to Eastern Bank, though a town employee did report to us that a recent direct deposit did, indeed, come from Eastern Bank. Benjamin told Marblehead Beacon that “the Town has implemented positive pay,” but she did not name the institution, apparently in line with the new non-disclosure policy.  


Asked whether the decision to withhold the names of banking institutions was based on state guidance or an independent executive decision, Benjamin replied, “As CFO this is a policy I implemented to protect the Town, it is not a directive of the State. As CFO it is my job to create internal controls, policies, and procedures that are in the best interest of the Town that protects the Towns assets.” 


Marblehead Beacon reached out to the newly elected Select Board Chair, Erin Noonan, about the decision by the Finance Director. “I truly don’t have an opinion around it since I am not briefed on the rationale,” said Noonan, “but Aleesha is very much bringing some best practices to the finance department.”