Awaiting answers: City Comptroller poses several questions to Mayor on GroWest Investigation

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Just days after members of the Utica Common Council expressed concern of the hiring of a private attorney for an investigation into non-profit GroWest when federal authorities were already involved in the investigation, the City Comptroller now has posed questions of his own to the Mayor and Corporation Counsel.

In a press release sent out on Friday afternoon, Utica City Comptroller Michael Cerminaro said that a number of questions needed to be answered by the Administration.

"As more and more facts about the ongoing investigation of GroWest by the city are being revealed; along with the admission by the city's Administration that a private firm hired by the city for this investigation really didn't have to be involved; a number of questions need to be answered by the Administration concerning this issue on why a private firm is needed that has an opened expense account, paid for by the taxpayers of the City of Utica," Comptroller Cerminaro said Friday.

Cerminaro said he has sent the following letter to Mayor David Roefaro and Corporation Counsel Linda Fatata asking a number of questions that he said were pertinent to the matter.

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Mayor Reofaro and Attorney Fatata:

As you know, I have serious concerns about the present investigation regarding the non-profit Gro West. In an attempt to understand the present situation, I would like to ask you the following questions in the hope that I can obtain clarification:

1. Ms. Fatata claims that she has a conflict of interest in this matter:

a. Who is the party, person or persons with whom the conflict exists? Given that Ms. Fatata is still actively involved in the investigation, we need to know the exact basis or cause of the conflict?

B. Is Mr. Hage reporting to Ms. Fatata? How can he do so if there is a conflict? If he is not, then what role was she playing at Friday's news conference?

C. Why do we need Mr. Hage if Ms. Fatata has remained involved?

D. How can you justify her involvement given that her brother, Robert Sullivan, had knowledge of problems two years ago, failed to act and contracts with GroWest continued to be in effect and paid up through now?

2. Do we really need a further investigation given that HUD and the FBI have now commenced an investigation? Given that Mr. Hage is a contributor to your campaign and obviously consulting with Ms. Fatata, shouldn't we allow a truly neutral review to occur?

3. It is important for me to know when you, Mayor Roefaro, first learned of "problems." Likewise, it is important to know what Mr. Sullivan knew and when hew knew it. This is obviously important because there is an opportunity to recover monies for any work that might be substandard. In what form or nature did each of you receive notice and what steps did you take and when.

4. Mr. Sullivan claimed that documents regarding GroWest were in poor order and voluminous - what was done to organize the same? What steps were taken by your administration with regard to GroWest that were different and distinct from the prior administration and when were they taken? This is particularly significant since apparently GroWest did not have an Executive Director during two years of your administration.

Given that there are ongoing contracts with GroWest, the foregoing is important.

I will await your response to the foregoing.

Yours, etc.
Michael Cerminaro

Roefaro's Response:

Mayor David Roefaro was not available Friday evening for an interview, but did release a statement in response to Cerminaro's letter.

"'Who is the 'comptroller' of the City of Utica trying to protect?" Roefaro said in his statement. "What is he trying to hide by attempting to block the investigation of GroWest? The investigation will continue until those questions are answered, until taxpayers are satisfied that justice has been served."

Not the only one questioning

The City of Utica Estimate and Apportionment Board voted to hire attorney JK Hage at a rate of $150 for the investigation, with an unspecified amount of hours.

However, some common council members, such as Lorraine Arcuri and Frank Vescera said that if HUD and the FBI are already involved in the investigation, Hage's involvement is irrelevant.

"Those entities can certainly do a much better job," Vescera said. "One attorney making $150 an hour can't compete with their (FBI) resources. Now that the FBI involved, let them do it."

Vescera said he would also like to see the Oneida County District Attorney's Office involved and thinks Hage's additional involvement is a waste of taxpayer money. He has asked the common council president for a special session to discuss ending Hage's paid involvement.

"I don't see the need to give anyone $150 an hour with no limit," Vescera said. "it's a waste of taxpayer money."

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