Letter: Financial record-keeping is concern in Prospect

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To the editor,

Last month, Prospect Mayor Robert J. Chatfield said he learned in December 2018 that as far back as November 2017, significant amounts of money were missing from the town’s payroll account. This should not have been a surprise to the mayor, Town Council or anyone who attends the council meetings. As early as 2016, I had provided the mayor and council documentation indicating what I believed to be serious “reconcilement issues” involving the town’s payroll, accounting, budgeting and reporting systems.

Prospect’s overall record-keeping operation was, and still is, a collage of unconnected systems, totally reliant on the labor-intensive manual transference of data between them, and lacking what I would consider meaningful checks and balances. In 2016, as Town Council chairman, I appointed an audit subcommittee to shed light on what was going on. The committee was unable to obtain all of the documentation it had requested from various administration officials, however.

I was so concerned about the administration’s lack of transparency that I contacted the state’s attorney office, which initiated a review. Without ever meeting with me, it concluded the “complaint” was politically motivated and took no further action. In 2017, still looking for answers, the Town Council voted 5-4 to conduct an internal investigation.

Members of the administration continued to state there were no issues or problems. However, instances were uncovered in which financial transactions that had been recorded as salary payments to the town’s public works employees actually were made to other individuals and to outside vendors.

The investigation also discovered corresponding third-party invoices had been paid without the required sign-offs, rendering the associated financial reports unreliable. When confronted with these facts in August 2017, Mayor Chatfield finally acknowledged some “human errors” apparently had occurred and that he would “fix them.”

I left elected office in late 2017, and subsequent councils chose not to reappoint the audit subcommittee. If they had, it could have been verified whether corrective steps had been implemented.

Jumping ahead to 2020, the same people are doing the same jobs, still without detailed written procedures, and that a financial problem still exists within the administration. Are these recently disclosed “thefts” a totally unrelated problem, or the predictable result of a systemic failure to address the previously identified process deficiencies?

Entrenched and outmoded as this admiration is, I have lost all faith that it can correct this situation. Hopefully, the attention this unfortunate episode is attracting, along with involvement of Webster Bank and the town’s insurance company, ultimately will result in a more professional process being implemented.

After all, safeguarding taxpayers’ money needs to be done in a businesslike manner, and not like a family business.

Thomas J. Galvin

Prospect

The writer was chairman of the Prospect Town Council for 10 years. He is a retired senior financial systems manager.