Ringing The Alarm Bell On Monticello’s Fiscal Crisis : A State Forensic Audit, And Accountability Must Be Our Priorities

Monticello may be facing a fiscal crisis. The financial records of the municipality are in such a condition that, in my opinion, a full forensic audit by State authorities, of all departments, is required to determine if, and if so how much, money may be improperly accounted for. Based on concerns I had, even then, about improper accounting of taxpayers' money, I first made a formal request to the NYS Comptroller's Office for a forensic audit on July 11, 2012.

I have repeated this request, and am doing so again here in public and asking for the help of my constituents in amplifying this request so Albany will respond. A full investigation of all accounts at Monticello Village Hall is URGENTLY requested, to commence immediately, to follow on the heels of the recent indictment of the former Village Manager and former Deputy Mayor on multiple charges of corruption in office involving, among other things, misappropriation of funds.

I am making this emphatic request to carry out my due diligence as an elected official, and no other reason.

One instance that I raised recently, for example, concerned a line item in the general fund that had been described in-house by the Treasurer as "the savings account". When I inquired, saying this sounded suspiciously like an illegal "slush fund", she became irate, insisting that the monies set aside in "savings" were not supposed to be public knowledge. (The fund first came to my awareness when the now indicted former Village Manager made a remark about purchasing office furniture with it.)

This is not how I work. As an elected Trustee of the Village, I take seriously my responsibility to the public to be open and truthful.

After I requested an accounting, the Treasurer announced she was resigning two months down the road. She blamed her quitting on the Building Inspector's issuance of a warning to her to dispose of some old furniture stored on the porch of a house she owns in the Village.

When I released the Treasurer's resignation to the public, she went to the Village Police, having been advised to do so during a phone call between herself, the Mayor, and the attorney for the Board of Trustees, to seek the issuance an Appearance Ticket charging me with allegedly invading her privacy by not removing her already publicly available return address from the resignation letter. These bizarre actions raise more red flags!

In today’s economy, who would ever resign an $80,000 per year job, with full benefits and pension, because someone told them to get the garbage off their porch or because they were asked to explain their work? This doesn’t make sense. There is something seriously wrong here.

My understanding, confirmed on analysis by two Certified Public Accountants that I have consulted (the treasurer is not a CPA; she is a real estate broker), is that the account in question refers to $100,000.00 contingency fund, set aside in the Village's budget for as long as budgets have been administered in Monticello, for unforeseen disasters. This money has been carefully conserved by previous boards for many years, and, to the best of my knowledge until recently, was never used.

It has come to my attention that the Village's contingency account has been redirected for everyday operating expenses to cover excess costs we are now occurring. Yet the Board of Trustees never voted to adopt an adjusted budget authorizing this critical change as a policy matter. According to Village Code Section 45-7, the Manager’s duty is to inform the board of the financial condition of the Village. There was a breakdown in communication between the Treasurer and the former Manager (who now stands indicted for misappropriating funds other counts of felony corruption). What we have now in place is a retired prison guard and a real estate broker as acting Chief Executive Officer and Treasurer.

In addition, dedicated Water and Sewer funds were transferred to pay attorney fees to our out-of-county "special counsel" (we do not have a duly appointed Village Attorney), whose firm has now been paid nearly a quarter-million dollars over the last 12 months from Village coffers. The Treasurer herself has confirmed to me that she did this, reportedly (according to what she told me) at the instruction of one Trustee, T.C .Hutchins, who also stands indicted on multiple counts of felony corruption in office.

When these inter-fund transfers began, I contacted the NYS Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) for an opinion. The advice sent to the Village Manager at my request was that "fee money" like the Sanitation and Water and Sewer revenue accounts, could be borrowed for narrowly defined essential purposes, such as maintaining infrastructure, but must be repaid by the end of the fiscal year.

That deadline passed on July 31, 2012 and to date none of the money has been returned. The balance in the Sanitation fund has been reduced from $1,500,000.00 one year ago to the present balance of $175,000.00 for unpermitted purposes. Where will the general fund ever get $1,500,000.00 to pay back the Sanitation fund?

Yet another example pertains to the long-term lease of a truck for the Water and Sewer Department executed, with no authorization, by the Village Manager. Contrary to his action, the Manager was in fact directed by unanimous resolution of the Board of Trustees to purchase the said truck outright for $39,000.00 cash (at that time there was more than $1,000,000.00 in the Sanitation Fund). Instead, without lawful authority, the Manager secretly signed a six-year 9% per-annum lease without informing the Board of Trustees.

Another example that I cited to the Treasurer recently was what appears to be a sizable shortfall of funds in the Parks and Recreation Department. Money is taken in, but due to a lack of internal accounting controls, the whereabouts of these funds are unclear to me or to finance professionals I have consulted who have reviewed available records. Where are all the funds that have been collected from events held at the Ted Stroebele Neighborhood Facility?

It appears crimes may have occurred at Village Hall involving misappropriation of funds (look at the situation, for example, involving the former Village Manager and a former Deputy Mayor). The Board of Trustees never authorized eliminating the contingency fund and spending it on general purposes. Additionally, some budget transfers from "fee money" accounts were never approved by the board, and the Treasurer appears to have failed to diligently follow prescribed Village policies and procedures and her job responsibilities outlined in Village Law §4-408. Some accounts that should contain money are empty.

These are alarming statements, but I make them in good faith, with no malice toward anyone. As a Trustee, it is my duty under the law and my own internal moral compass, to sound the alarm and report to my constituents that the financial condition of the Village is bleak.

I have previously called upon the NYS Comptroller's Office to come to Monticello, at the earliest possible date, and vigorously investigate, in the form of a thorough forensic audit, of every department and every fund, and to prosecute improprieties and recommend corrective steps.

I have specific concerns to enumerate when State officials arrive to conduct that investigation with the intent of putting the Village back into orderly condition in which it was left by the former Treasurer when she retired two years ago.

Villagers need to be aware that taxes are going to go up next year exponentially. I am ringing the bell now. Mark it on your calendar that on 12/12/12 a warning and call to action were issued by me: Citizens beware!

Your help is needed! Please contact our State representatives and law-enforcement authorities by phone and in writing demanding an immediate forensic audit, full investigation, and corrective action to stop the hemorrhaging. You will see the results next year.

Now Is Not The Time To Change The Form Of Government

Due to the above concerns, I am announcing that I do not now intend to support the referendum that I have proposed to abandon the Village Manager form of government at this time, in light of the present environment of corruption and mismanagement. The appropriate time is in the future, but not now.

Presently we must focus on resolving serious problems in the Village's finances, cleaning up the books and records, determining if and how much money is missing (such as from the Recreation Department) and where it went; and placing someone at the helm who is qualified to properly oversee the fiscal management of the Village with nearly an $11,000,000.00 annual budget.

We have a retired prison guard as an Acting Village Manager with insufficient municipal experience to make necessary course reforms. We have a real estate broker as Treasurer who never submitted a resume to the full Board of Trustees, possibly because she was a Mayor’s appointment. The most reliable and credible record of the proceedings of meetings of the Board of Trustees is the archive of audio files on carmenrue.com, because the minutes are so sketchy.

Our Mayor, with the strengths and human weaknesses he has, was not elected by the voters of Monticello to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the Village. I continue to support a referendum abolishing the Manager form of government coinciding with the next Mayoral election in 2016, not now.

First, we have more pressing financial matters to resolve, and the Village needs professional help and close monitoring by State authorities. Citizen participation and support is urgently requested. I am only one vote on the five-member board which governs Monticello. Please help me save your Village and mine.