Opinion: Former Canton town supervisor reacts to new board’s accounting pick
To the Editor:
It has been a great honor to serve the People of Canton for the majority of my professional career, both as town supervisor and prior to that as village mayor. I have attempted to act with integrity and have been on guard to never allow the politics of the position to invade my responses or endanger the township for which I owed a duty to protect.During my tenure as both mayor and supervisor in Canton, I have been constrained by protocol to avoid criticizing fellow board members and employees, even when they were wrong. However, now that I no longer serve in any official capacity with the municipality, and given the misstatements that we read in your newspaper, I no longer feel so constrained.
I refer specifically the article “Gray & Gray Retained by Town” which appeared in the Jan. 17-23 issue of North Country This Week by Adam Atkinson. What is stated by current officials and what is truth are two different things.
As an elected official, I would have addressed these issues privately with the responsible party so as to avoid any undue strain on the operation of government, and avoid public embarrassment. As a constituent, and having seen the manner in which the individuals operating government prefer to handle conflict or disagreements, I have selected this forum to raise the issues I have seen in just the first few weeks of my successor’s tenure as town supervisor, with the newly constituted board. I will address them in the order in which they arise in the referenced article.
1. Supervisor Ashley, in supporting Gray & Gray’s continued role as the town’s bookkeeper (and the $4,150 per month that it will cost), says, “The only option I felt was viable for the best interests of the employees and makes the most sense is to continue with Gray & Gray.” Ms. Ashley never mentions that it will most likely cost considerably more than this. In the years in which I served as supervisor, an annual audit (which is required by law of all villages and towns) was prepared and submitted by me to the NYS Comptroller. However, during Ms. Ashley’s tenure as Mayor, not one of these annual audits was submitted in the year in which it was due, nor was it ever prepared by her.
It is a safe assumption that she will expect Gray & Gray to perform this service but that is not a part of the budgeted invoice they submit monthly. In addition, my office handled the budgeting and the other Human Resources activities (W-2s, etc.) that the supervisor’s office routinely does.
This is also not included the services provided by Gray & Gray. Gray & Gray does a great job. But don’t expect them to do this for free. Anecdotally, I have been informed that a local municipality recently bid out the same services and the bid came back at more than $70,000. Given Canton’s considerably larger size (compared to the municipality that recently bid out these services) we can estimate that said services will cost $80,000+. Compare this with the $36,000 budgeted for said services this past year and you can see why any constituent should be concerned.
2. Ms. Ashley says that keeping Gray & Gray and paying considerably more for said services “is in the best interests of the taxpayers,” when it is really in Ms. Ashley’s best interest. She does not have the skillsets to do this work, as evidence by the fact that when she was Mayor she did not submit her own annual audits to the State Comptroller. Those were farmed out, and were not submitted to the Comptroller until almost two years after she left office. To make it sound like our constituents are best served by farming out this work perpetuates the falsehood that things weren’t managed properly before her tenure and she is being judicious (rather than admitting her shortcomings).
3. If the framers of NYS Law thought it best to make the selection of a bookkeeper a joint executive-legislative decision, why does the law give the supervisor exclusive control over that decision? Why doesn’t Ms. Ashley follow the law? By pushing this decision off on others, it makes it sound like doing it the way it is proscribed in law is wrong and (further) makes it sound like she is doing the right thing rather than covering for her inadequacies. There is a specific reason why the law created a system of checks and balances between the board and the supervisor. However, it appears that Ms. Ashley does not view her role as one in which she should protect those checks and balances.
4. Within the article, Councilman Washo and Councilman LaMarche applaud the accounting system employed by Gray & Gray. The accounting system that Mr. Washo and Mr. LaMarche reference is the one we created, handed over to Gray & Gray and trained Gray & Gray to use. I’m happy they like the system. It would have been great to have received that affirmation this past fall, but to do so would have undermined their political agenda.
5. Unnamed “board members have said they previously did not have as much access to financial reports under the previous system when the book keeping was done in-house.” The board members audited the supervisor’s books on a monthly basis, reviewing and approving audited bank statements, income v. budget statements and balance sheets. They also – annually – came into the supervisor’s Office and audited everything until their questions were answered. Both Mr. Washo and Mr. Smith audited the supervisor’s Office in 2016 and 2017, and approved the activities of that office without qualification. On their recommendation, the board voted unanimously to accept their approval in public meeting. (Copies of audits attached.)
When board members receive, review and approve reports, they take ownership. For board members to deny knowing what is taking place while also reviewing and approving the information they have been provided in a timely fashion results in just one of two conclusions: 1) they are either being intentionally misleading for political reasons or 2) they simply do not understand what is in front of them and would rather assume wrongdoing rather than educate themselves to the truth.
Political opponents, fearing that I would not be cooperative in transferring the books to my successor this past fall, worked aggressively to get the books moved out-of-house so as to provide my successor with an easy transition. This also addressed what has already been demonstrated to be a shortcoming of my opposition in the town supervisor’s race. Make no mistake, the push to remove the bookkeeping function from the town dupervisor’s office in 2017 was not done because of wrongdoing; it was done because of political motives.
While my tenure as town supervisor has come to an end, I am, and will continue to be, an active voice in the community that I love and have served for most of my career. I will not sit idly by and watch as our current town board and the new town supervisor mislead the public in an effort to conceal their own inadequacies, at the expense of the town taxpayers.
David T. Button
Former Canton town supervisor