Oneida County Election Commissioners respond to audit, County Executive
ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - On Tuesday, April 3, an independent audit of the Oneida County Board of Elections for the years 2010 and 2011 was complete and disbursed to officials and the public - a report that County Executive Anthony Picente's said offered more confirmation than new information. On Thursday, the Elections Commissioners for Oneida County responded to the report, as well as the County Executive's statements.
"I think the question really is, are they capable of running that department, giving all the issues we've had for the last two years? It clearly raises the question of whether they are or not," Picente said on Tuesday.
Picente was referring to Election Commissioners Pamela Mandryck and Carolann Cardone. The commissioners declined to be interviewed on camera Tuesday regarding the audit by Bonadio & Co., LLP and said they would be releasing a statement. That statement came Thursday afternoon.
Among Picente's specific concerns as a result of the report: the mis-classification of some workers as independent contractors instead of county employees; the payment to certain workers before the County Board of Legislators approved their position or pay rate and the failure of the BOE to follow county purchasing rules and procedures.
"You just can't call up on the phone and order things because the money's in the budget. There are set rules and regulations and this board of elections has been treating this as an independent authority and they're not," says Picente.
Picente asked the election commissioners to respond in writing with a plan of corrective action to the Board of Legislators by Monday, April 9.
On Thursday, they released the following letter to Picente:
4 April 2012
Oneida County Board of Legislators Chairman, Gerald J. Fiorini
Oneida County Office Building
800 Park Avenue – FL 10
Utica NY 13501
Dear Chairman Fiorini and Honorable Members:
We are in receipt of the audit report which the county executive initiated and which he graciously arranged to have hand delivered to us, along with his correspondence to you. Obviously we are also in receipt of the county executive’s statement and numerous accusations provided to the media. It is interesting to note that, when we met with the auditors prior to their issuance of the draft audit report, they commented that they had found “nothing very interesting” in their audit of the Board of Elections. Certainly the county executive has his own perceptions of the audit report.
This memo to you contains specific details regarding the conveyances of the county executive. The county executive emphasized his concerns regarding the incorrect classification of the positions of EMS Programmer and Machine Technicians and the potential exposure of the county due to same. He even states that his staff told us that our classifications were incorrect and they had suggested that we hire these individuals as employees. This is contract to the direction we were given in one meeting where the county executive specifically advised that he would not allow us to hire part time/seasonal employees. The county executive’s chief of staff suggested that we hire two full-time employees at approximately $34,000 per year despite the county executive’s hiring freeze declaration.
The Board of Elections worked closely with the County Comptroller’s office to evaluate each position against the IRS criteria for position assignment. The criteria actually split 50/50 with NO DEFINITIVE DETERMINATION. The Commissioners believed that the assignment of independent contractor designation would expose the taxpayers of Oneida County to far less financial obligations (benefits, unemployment, retirement) than an employee of any form (FT/PT). We also researched the methods used by other Boards of Elections for such
determination and found that only two counties had employees and the others used contractors and paid via voucher at a rate of between $15 and $25 per hour. This background and research was presented to the Board of Legislators and we were then directed by the County Attorney’s office to update the existing contract enabling positions and rates of pay to correctly reflect the plan being implemented by preparing contracts for the individuals. In 2011, the county executive refused to pay these people until contracts were in place!
The Contract Manager for the county executive forwarded multiple versions of contracts which were then re-vamped to reflect the EMS Programmers and Machine Technicians. Following these multiple revisions, the county executive placed his stamp of approval on the documentation to allow the request to proceed to the Board of Legislators for action. Finally, the legislation establishing the rates and titles was approved. Although this process commenced much earlier in the year, it did not conclude until October of 2011, well after the elections which the county executive accuses the Board of Elections of paying people without contracts being in place.
The county executive has refused to allow the EMS Programmers and Machine Technicians who have worked, in good faith, since the beginning of 2012 to maintain and prepare the voting systems for the 2012 election season and who have also assisted in training inspectors, to be paid for the services they have rendered. This is in violation of Election Law which clearly states that the appointment and removal of those assisting in the election process and Board of Elections staff is the sole discretion of the Commissioners as long as the positions exist and have been properly included in the substantiation of the proposed and approved budget. These positions most assuredly are appropriate for the Board of Elections within the approved 2012 Oneida County Budget. Failure to pay these people is illegal and immoral and will undoubtedly result in legal action.
The commissioners were advised by the county executive’s Contract Manager to update the 2011 contracts and send them over to the Contract Manager for review and then forwarding to the county executive. The Contract Manager returned the contracts to the Commissioners when there was a new paragraph that she felt needed to be included. We completed the rewrite and the Democrat Commissioner hand-delivered the contracts to the Contract Manager and was advised they would be processed. Later that same day the Republican Commissioner was advised that the contracts would not be signed until they were processed via the entire legislative procedure.
When the Democratic Commissioner attempted to discuss the newest problem with contracts with the County Attorney, she was advised that the County Attorney’s office was not handling the contracts, the Contract Manager was in control of them. Tracking down the contracts after that point was a search between the Contract Manager, County Attorney and Budget Director (who never did have the items).
We performed every directive that was provided to the Board of Elections as expeditiously as possible to ensure the ability to hold the elections and get people paid. We worked with several of the county executive’s departments to accomplish this and now the county executive accuses the Board of Elections of a systematic disregard of county policies and procedures.
The county executive also criticizes the Commissioners for overpayment of some contract people. It is significant to recall that in 2011 we had three elections on a two election budget including a Special Election that was held on Primary day. This required the Board of Elections to design a plan that secured additional voting systems from another county in order to ensure access to voting systems at each poll site. Additionally, there were the remnants of Hurricane Irene which resulted in the 901Broad Street storage facility suffering water damage and the voting systems being placed in jeopardy.
The Machine Technicians who were paid more than their contracted amounts saved our voting systems from water damage. We suffered damage to only two machines due to the actions of the Machine Techs on the day of the storm and in the immediate days thereafter. Our Machine Techs were commended by the vendor for doing such tremendously-successful work in saving our voting systems (replacement cost of over $11K per). If this is poor management or a blatant disregard of established procedures, then the Commissioners readily accept that characterization!
The Board of Legislators may want to examine why the lease agreement (which exceeds $60,000) with Walter Pratt for the 901 Broad Street Machine Storage Facility was signed and thus extended by the county executive earlier than necessary and without the Legislators’ input, despite the water damage the county voting systems incurred.
The county executive also criticizes the fact that the Commissioners did not acknowledge that workers were paid as Poll Site Coordinators for the September Primary of 2011 which occurred prior to the enactment of the legislation by the Board of Legislators. As explained previously, the Board of Legislators were clearly aware of the staffing scheme for the Board of Elections as pertains to election day and were working through the legislative process. We were asked at a Board of Legislators meeting if anyone ‘…was paid $175 for working election day.’ Keep in
mind that we actually had two elections that day which equates to approximately 1200 payroll vouchers. It would be wonderful to be able to know exactly how many people were paid exactly how much for their specific roll in each election, and we did print our County Revenue and Analysis Report prior to attending the meeting, but were advised that the report was not current when it was referenced. Further, we were not provided with the report Mr. Flisnik was referencing which may have been helpful to us.
According to the county executive, the Board of Elections has failed to follow the County’s purchasing procedures by not obtaining written quotes and making purchases without submitting a purchase order. The purchase orders being referred to pertain to law books (which have historically been purchased via Thomson West and which are similarly purchased by many other departments including the county attorney, district attorney and public defender); a sole source vendor purchase for election materials from the state-approved printer (there are only TWO) for Oneida County (Ft. Orange Press); election cards from the other state-approved print vendor (Phoenix Graphics); an emergency printer repair from the county IT department-recommended vendor (ESI); and machine transportation from the existing machine transportation vendor (Watts Express).
The Commissioners were originally directed to use only Watts Express to move the voting systems as there was a contract in-place. However, it has NOW been decided that the contract needs to be re-bid to specify the transport of the optical scan systems. The Commissioners had hoped to be able to advertise this bid by the end of this week but this plan likely will not occur as we must first deal with responding to the county executive’s media blitz regarding the audit report.
Included in the audit was criticism that monies which the Board of Elections had sought and received as reimbursable for items purchased with county dollars (approximately $150,000) was placed in incorrect accounts. We are hopeful that we will not also be held liable for that internal mistake; the Commissioners simply sought and were awarded the reimbursements and forwarded the money to the county executive’s financial staff.
The county executive was critical of the Commissioners for not commenting on the draft version of the audit. We reiterate that we DID provide comments as per the instructions of the audit
(i.e. NOT discuss or review the report with anyone except the Comptroller’s office) and that our comments were in unison with the County Comptroller’s office and resulted in changes to the report which ultimately led to many of the purchase order issues (e.g. for postage) being categorized as NA [not applicable]. We also discussed two distinct alternative approaches that we were commencing when we met with the auditors. One will be the inclusion of the Commissioners’ signatures on each of the 800 plus vouchers for the poll site workers.
Another plan was one which was discussed at the Election Commissioner’s Association Conference in January 2012, that of Poll Site Agreements. A generic was generated which each county could then modify. Oneida County has never utilized poll site leases with the only exception being an agreement with the NYS Armory in Utica. The county executive’s claim that the Board of Elections is flagrantly disregarding his concerns and county policy is clearly not true.
A very interesting element of this media circumstance is that the final version of the audit report specifically advises that “This report is intended solely for the information and use of Oneida County and is not intended to be and should not be used by anyone other than the specified parties.” While the Commissioners certainly have NOTHING to hide and consider the audit an opportunity to improve (a comment we specifically stated prior to the audit), the characterization of the report as “indicative of serious management issues” is ridiculous. Further, it is interesting to note that the county executive seems to be able to apply whatever restrictions or rules as he wishes, but doesn’t have to abide by any limitations whatsoever. The Commissioners have documentation that the county executive received the IRS directives regarding the classification scheme on March 21; the Commissioners were provided this same documentation on April 3rd.. Again the county executive is misrepresenting the facts of the situation in another attempt to malign the Commissioners and the Board of Elections.
We anticipate that this correspondence will facilitate the Board of Legislators’ understanding of the events that have transpired. Even more importantly is the Commissioners’ desire for the public to feel confident in the electoral process. We are more than willing to discuss the plans for this election season as well as any concerns the Legislators may have.
Carolann N. Cardone
Democrat Election Commissioner
Pamela N. Mandryck
Republican Election Commissioner
Cc: Party Chairs Ford, Mitchell (Brooks)