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May 7, 2013 4:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Trustees Want To Clarify Code Pertaining To Village Spending

May 8, 2013 9:20 AM

Westhampton Beach Village trustees are moving forward with a series of safeguards designed to secure the municipality’s finances, following several fiscal reviews that some say highlight flaws with the current system.

Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker said because of problems with village finances, steps must be taken to ensure that such issues do not arise again down the road. He said this week that trustees are working with the new village clerk, Elizabeth Lindtvit, to create resolutions that he said will erase any ambiguity in current laws that, as they now stand, are subject to interpretation.

He added that trustees intend, at a board meeting on Thursday night, May 9, to review a long-awaited audit that has been the center of much of the controversy. The roughly 300-page document—the findings of which have not yet been discussed in public or adopted by the board—has been at the center of the controversy for the past few months. The audit documented two payroll errors committed by the former village clerk, Rebecca Molinaro, who recently left her post. But other financial reviews, including one completed this spring by the state comptroller’s office, did not flag any apparent errors.

“What’s next is, we make sure we put better checks and balances in place so we can make sure these situations do not happen again,” Mr. Tucker said.

He said one of his main goals is to make it clear in policy that no one—not even Mayor Conrad Teller—can authorize any payment using taxpayer money without the entire Board of Trustees first approving the transaction. At the present time, the mayor, as the village’s chief financial officer, can authorize such payments as he sees fit, and two payments in particular—one made to former employee Susan O’Rourke, now deceased, and the other to Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean—have upset Mr. Tucker and some of the other trustees.

While he does not oppose measures to secure village finances, Mr. Teller said the other trustees are making an issue out of the payments because they either do not like the person, as in Chief Dean’s case, or are questioning decisions made by him as mayor, as with Ms. O’Rourke. Prior to her death, Ms. O’Rourke was granted six months of paid medical leave by the mayor, though Mr. Tucker and others have argued that she was not entitled to those benefits because she did not work full-time for three consecutive years.

Mr. Teller said the audit outlines some of the financial errors made at Village Hall, including payroll errors, but that the other trustees are exaggerating the problems to garner favor with the public.

“The Village Board has the right to question all finances—I don’t disagree with that,” Mr. Teller said. “But we have never had a problem in this village that I know of, and we are making a mountain out of a molehill.”

The plan to implement stronger rules was rolled out following discussions last week, which took place in executive session, about the audit completed by Satty, Levine and Ciacco. Last week, several pages of the report that had been previously redacted by the village were released to The Press; the pages focus on details relating to the medical leave taken by Ms. O’Rourke prior to her death last June.

According to those pages, Ms. O’Rourke was paid more than $10,000 over three months. During that time, she was also accruing vacation and compensatory time totaling more than $3,000 but was never paid for either, according to the document.

The report also states that Ms. O’Rourke was authorized to take the leave by Mr. Teller based on his interpretation of the code pertaining to medical leave. He has explained that she qualified because she had been employed by the village for at least three years, even though they were not consecutive and not always in a full-time capacity. The mayor has defended his decision, noting that the policy does not specify whether workers have to be employed full time; it only states that they must have worked for the village for at least three years.

It is not clear if the board is looking to recoup any of the money from Ms. O’Rourke’s survivors. And the newly released audit pages do not state, one way or the other, if the village made a mistake by granting her the medical leave.

But Mr. Tucker said it is such interpretations that make him want to overhaul the village’s code. He said he wants to make sure that such decisions are not left up to one person.

“We need to make sure we have things in place and to make sure that people are not spending money without board approval,” he said. “We are going to look at the procurement policy more, make sure it reflects the wishes of the whole Board of Trustees and the mayor.”

The other redacted pages released last week focused on contractual payments made to Chief Dean, including the overpayment of vacation time that the mayor said has since been returned to the village.

Mr. Teller said the code changes that Mr. Tucker is seeking must first be approved by the village attorney, Richard Haefeli, and are expected to be discussed more at a board work session on Wednesday, May 22.

“These are resolutions that we are trying to put into place that will really equate to policy and procedure where there is none, and if there is, where it is not really concrete,” Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto said. “There is a lot of ambiguity in some of them that we are trying to find out.

“As we have been told, it is a matter of interpretation,” she continued. “We don’t want anything to be misinterpreted that can benefit the taxpayers.”

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Mayor Teller has turned Village government into a real life version of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Just like the Emperor who kept insisting that he was wearing new clothes, although he was naked, Mayor Teller keeps insisting that “we never had a problem in this Village”, completely ignoring the findings of the Special Audit. Mayor Teller also insisted that there were no employee salary overpayments, but as soon as the Trustees ...more
By beachgirl11978 (18), Westhampton Beach on May 8, 13 3:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hed also needs to explain why he awarded the Police Chief (of a 2.5 sq mile Village) close to $300,000 in an annual compensation package (with benefits), authorized ilegal payments to him, and re-awarded the Chiefs sister the Beach manager position after all the fiascos that occurred under her management. Concerned taxpayers need to be cognizant of whats transpired over the last few years and the efforts of Tucker and Dibenedetto to get to the trust. I dont feel its anything personal with these ...more
By realistic (472), westhampton on May 9, 13 8:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
It ended with a whimper not a bang.

The Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the independent financial audit, including a “yes” vote by Trustee Ralph Urban (until this moment “Connie’s Reliable Ralph”). This audit, together with the legal opinion of the village’s labor counsel, confirmed that there were improper practices by Mayor Teller and nearly 80K of improper payments that had been made. There was no discussion by the Board.

Then the ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on May 10, 13 10:00 AM
What amazes me is the first Teller Fanatic is on the Ethics Board of the Village. I kid you not! Go figure. If you read his dopey blog and see his comments from last evening your going to see an example of all the mess that takes place in this Village with all the mis-information thats printed out there and all the allignments that allows a guy like Teller stay in office. The old guard protecting the old guard with B.S.
By realistic (472), westhampton on May 10, 13 12:55 PM
1 member liked this comment
Publius, it is very unbecoming of you to resort to name calling, you must be desperate. Enough said about that. I will comment on your character assassination of Vic Levy. Vic is a man of character, intelligence and a very successful businessman who has lived in and served this Village for most of his adult life. It is an understatement to say he is respected in this community. Vic has stated publicly that he believes the accounting error is a common mistake and that Hank tucker and his two ...more
By gusbeme (33), southampton on May 11, 13 3:34 PM
gusbe:

Both Teller-Fanatics 1 & 2, have at times made valuable contributions to this community. Their performance at the Board meeting was a glaring exception.

There were 5 elected public officials on the dais. Every one of them was doing their best for the Village.

However, in spite of his native intelligence and obvious concern for this village, in my opinion, Fanatic #1 has resorted to personal attacks using vitriolic language that has for a number of years poisoned ...more
May 11, 13 11:20 PM appended by Publius
rein NOT reign
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on May 11, 13 11:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
Good morning Publius, and oh my goodness, I have you up late trying to think of responses. Your response is predictable. You go to the dictionary and give us a definition of something that is irrelevant and side step the real issue. Do you know you do that almost every third or fourth post? Do you think we are impressed because you can read the dictionary?

“Fanatic #1 and #2” along with “Connie’s’ reliable Ralf” is name calling in anybody’s ...more
By gusbeme (33), southampton on May 12, 13 7:52 AM
Bring Out Your Dead!!!! Bring Out Your Dead...... Hank, Pat, and oh yes..... there pet, Charlie, should be ashamed of them selves...... What would you have us do? Sift through her ashes and look for the money? Shame on the three of you...... Your self serving actions have made our village a joke! I dare you to a public forum where the tax paying residents can pose questions to you.... And, no, I do not mean a village meeting.... I HEREBY PROPOSE THAT THE VILLAGE BOARD HAS A MEETING TO ANSWER ...more
By officegals (4), westhampton beach on May 15, 13 11:21 PM
Unfortunately, in regards to Mr. Levy and Mr. Speir mentioned above, they simply are factually incorrect on certain details.

Mr. Levy's assertion that Auditors caught the mistake of the prior Village Clerk is simply incorrect. It was noted in a Audit Report that was prepared by an Auditor, because Yes, a mistake did occur. That being said, It was detected and self-corrected by the previous Village Clerk. That is the fact! Mayor Teller is completely aware of this detail.

Rebecca ...more
By personal.usage2013@yahoo.com (3), Southampton on May 19, 13 1:38 PM