Mayor upset by response to state audit


After a meeting to discuss a scathing audit of the city's finances didn't go as she had hoped, Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane sent an e-mail to the current and incoming aldermen late last week expressing her displeasure with the relationship between her office and the council.

"This dysfunction must change," she wrote in an e-mail Friday. "The divide that is being fostered between the mayor's office and council must be ended. The furtherance of this nonsensical behavior is a disservice to the people that elected us."

The e-mail spawned from a Finance Committee meeting called Thursday night to discuss the state report of the city's finances. Though the first step necessitated by the state is to formulate a response to the audit, Thane attempted to also intertwine the city's corrective action plan -- also required by the state, but that's not due until 90 days after receiving the report.

During the meeting, 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas said the response and CAP were two separate matters and they should not be "commingled like [they] commingle [their] cash," much to Thane's disappointment.

"Our staff and I had spent several hours drafting an initial, two-and-a-half page CAP that would have taken 15 minutes to go over had the process not been intentionally stymied for reasons unknown to me," Thane said.

Finance Committee chairman and 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said the meeting wasn't intended to talk about the CAP -- just the response.

He and the other aldermen decided they wanted more time to review the draft CAP before discussion. The council finalized and signed the response that night.

Thane wrote if the council had listened to her countless attempts to seek action beginning in May 2008, the city would be in better shape today.

The draft plan

The state Comptroller's report identified seven procedural recommendations. The draft CAP responds to each recommendation, listing the actions the city pledges to take.

The first recommendation states the controller should ensure accounting records are complete, accurate and maintained in a timely manner. The plan says the city has hired an accounting firm to correct the city's records and the controller will also develop procedures for staff-use to ensure transactions are properly recorded. The controller will also ensure the KVS accounting system is in working order.

In line with the city charter, the council will ensure those steps are followed.

The report then states the mayor and council should ensure the controller completes monthly reconciliations.

"As a better understanding of municipal finance is needed to properly oversee the Department of Finance, the council will revise the city charter or code to necessitate that the mayor and each alderman be specifically trained in municipal budgeting and oversight for a minimum eight hours per year," the draft CAP reads, "and that each class or workshop be accredited by the [office of the state Comptroller.]"

The controller will also identify and correct problems immediately.

According to the report, the controller should prepare monthly reports to the council.

To comply, each financial resolution will be accompanied by a summary report prepared by the controller.

The council should ensure debt proceeds are deposited and expended accurately, the auditors wrote.

The draft CAP states the council will ensure the controller completes monthly reports showing the proper debt and expenditure entries within 45 days of closing any borrowing. The council will also "improve the capital project procedure."

The report states the controller and office staff should attend training and the CAP promises such.

In response to a recommendation that the mayor and council use references when developing future budgets, the CAP states the staff will be provided those materials and the controller and Finance Committee will develop a yearly schedule of topics and agendas for meetings.

The report says the mayor and council should develop a long-term financial plan. The corrective action plan promises to create a three-to-five year plan incorporating policies and content recommended by the state.

During the meeting, Dybas said he "absolutely" thought crafting a CAP is important, just not appropriate for that meeting. Leggiero said a separate committee meeting will be called soon, but a date has not been set.

Thane said she hopes the new council will be more productive.

"It's my hope that the incoming aldermen are true to their pledge to work collaboratively with this administration," Thane wrote in her e-mail. "I look to the future optimistically as I believe they are sincere about this commitment."