To the editor,
Luke Marshall’s article, “Transactions the result of ‘human error’” in the Sept. 2, 2017 edition of the Citizen’s News regarding the investigation into Prospect’s bill paying process failed to highlight relevant information that was learned about Prospect’s current accounting and expenditure process. While we, Democratic members of the Town Council, voted to close the investigation as information was satisfactorily provided, we provide our perspective below on the process.
What we learned:
Our record-keeping is antiquated. It took over two years for the Town Council to receive information that should have been readily accessible. Information was first requested on April 27, 2015. If documentation was scanned into a database or properly indexed and stored, it could have been provided with the press of a computer key or after a brief visit to a records room.
Information that should have been provided was not. Despite repeated requests for documents and explanation regarding certain financial transactions since early 2015, neither the town treasurer nor the mayor provided the requested documents to the Town Council until Aug. 28, 2017, when the investigation was held.
Our Town Charter is not followed. Our Charter mandates “Checks shall be drawn by the Mayor for the payment of approved claims which shall be valid only when counter signed by the Treasurer.” At the investigation on Aug. 28, the town treasurer advised that he did not see the invoices nor did he sign the seven checks that were issued and in question.
Checks were erroneously posted to wrong accounts. Although the mayor acknowledged that “human error” was the cause, an updated bill paying system and compliance with the Charter’s accounting and expenditure requirements would likely have prevented these errors. The errors can be very costly, cause unnecessary tax consequences and budgeting shortfalls.
The system of checks and balances established in our Town Charter has failed in Prospect. Our Charter mandates “two signatures” on all payments made by the town, and in the absence or inability of the mayor and treasurer to act, the chairperson of the Town Council can temporarily substitute for either. We have learned through this investigation that this mandate was not followed.
Failure to comply with Charter mandates has ramifications. Our Town Charter provides a system of checks and balances to protect our residents, much like our U.S. Constitution, which implemented three branches of government to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. The separation of powers is not to be taken lightly. Indeed, our Charter provides that payments made in violation of our Charter requirement “shall be deemed illegal” and those involved shall be liable to the town for the full amount paid. Our Charter further provides that action by town officers or employees in violation of this provision of the Charter or state statute “shall be cause for his or her removal.”
We hope this letter has highlighted the significant accounting issues that were discovered through the investigation, the inability of our current administration to expeditiously provide documentation, and their failure to comply with our Town Charter mandates.
Carla M. Perugini Erickson
Patricia Sullivan Geary
The writers are Democratic members of the Prospect Town Council and running for office in November.