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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding a Scalp to Save a Hyde


UPDATE: Comptroller fires back in lead Times Union Story here.

Hours before a quickly scheduled meeting of the so called Finance Committee,some of those behind the sudden surprise firing of the Town Comptroller were busy leaking out a 3 page recommendation by an accounting firm that was retained to review the town's book keeping practices and make recommendations. The principle leaker was our own Lou Desso, mastermind of the scheme to fire the Comptroller and replace him with the town assessor who, apparently unbeknowst to Desso, had been arraigned on felony charges hours before his appointment. Desso is not known for thinking things out as is apparent by leaking out the document before it was disclosed, discussed and made public by his own Finance Committee last night.

You can read Desso's spin on the document in today's Record, here. What you won't get to read are any of the former Comptroller's explanations to any of the findings and recommendations of the firm's report. That's because no one asked him for an explanation. Apparently, allowing someone whose scalp is now needed to justify the arrogant and politically motivated behavior of the Board's firing just wouldn't make the case sound as bad as it needs to be. So, there will be no explanations from the Comptroller permitted.

Instead we have a report written without political bias which is then spun by those with the agenda to justify the firing and get themselves out of the political soup they've been cooking in for a month. At the meeting last night, Desso and his political pal Lou Cotrona were "souping it up" dishing out more innuendo than a super sized serving of fish chowder. They inferred possible fraud was taking place, that possible criminal activity had occurred and most importantly, that they were lucky and right to have fired the comptroller.

While we can only surmise what the Comptroller might have been able to say to explain some of the six findings and recommendations had he been allowed to, most of the issues and recommendations have to do with work on bank reconciliations that were not yet finished or reports that were still pending when he was abruptly fired. But one finding was seized upon, an "Unauthorized Bank Account" set up by the Comptroller at Pioneer Bank containing three million in town funds. The accounting firm recommended that the town board approve every bank account. What it does instead is approve every bank the town comptroller is authorized to use. Which banking product he determines is best for the town has been left up to the Comptroller, so the fact that Board members were not aware of this bank account is no different than the other accounts utilized. That detail has never been required or asked for.

It is not that the account was "unauthorized" as much as the fact that Board practices did not require the Board to approve of each and every account opened by the comptroller. Hence a recommendation to require Board approval of every account along with every bank. And while such a practice is fully acceptable and wise, it simply was not how the North Greenbush Town Board operated or required its Comptroller's to operate. So fix it.

Instead, some, not all, Finance Committee members wondered aloud whether the Comptroller was engaged in fraud or even criminal activity. With the Comptroller not allowed to defend himself at any level, the result was a political lynching. Nice job boys, your mother's would be proud. We suspect however, that if anyone had bothered to ask the bank, they would find that every penny deposited in that account is safe, secure and untouched, something no one at the meeting wanted to say or thought of saying. We should know by Thursday's Board meeting.

We've said all along that the goal behind the firing was to get better political control over the Comptroller's position. Comptroller Strenka had been told to not speak to certain members of the public by Mr. Desso as part of his paranoia over critics. He had also been pressured to hold back reports that those opponents might use to further criticize Desso's wild spending sprees on behalf of his friends in town hall and his surprise 2011 budget walked in the Board room without any input from either the Supervisor and Comptroller.

Some of this may finally come out now that Desso and company are trying to assassinate the character and professionalism of the fired Comptroller to try and save their own skin from public judgment. Desso likes a trial you see, where the defendant is not allowed to defend himself. It's cleaner that way and the result is more suited to the needs and agenda at hand.

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