Council opts to investigate transactions

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PROSPECT — In a split decision, the Town Council last week voted to open an investigation into the treasurer’s office to determine how and why a series of transactions were made.

The investigation centers on seven transactions totaling about $45,000 that were made in previous fiscal years. The money was spent from the budget for public works employees’ salary to pay five outside vendors and two non-public works employees, rather than being transferred to the appropriate account.

This raised questions from members of the council about how and why the money was spent.

Treasurer David Young, who is elected, came before the council on Jan. 3 to discuss the process for how invoices are paid and verifying invoices. However, when the council asked him to come back to another meeting to explain exactly how the seven transactions occurred, he declined to attend.

“This was not a big deal. It wasn’t until the treasurer refused to come to our meetings, refused to answer questions about those postings, totally ignored, said he couldn’t come for three months,” said Town Council member Pat Geary during the council’s Aug. 15 meeting. “It was very simple. Seven things. Were they posted incorrectly? What were they for actually? Who signed to say they could be paid out of those accounts? That was it.”

Approving an investigation allows the council to take legal steps, including issuing subpoenas.

The council also voted to hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Aug. 28 and requested Young attend.

The decision to start the investigation came down to a tie-breaking vote cast by Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin. With Democrat Carla Erickson-Perugini absent, the vote was tied at 4-4 as Galvin, a Republican, voted in favor of the investigation along with the three other Democrats on the council. The four other Republican members voted against it. Since the vote was tied, Galvin, as chairman, cast the deciding vote in favor of it.

Galvin said he is not alleging any criminal misconduct on the part of Young, but wanted to see the invoices because he did not believe it was a simple error in inputting the numbers. He said he has requested the invoices but hasn’t received them.

“I am not comfortable with a small explanation. To me this looks like somebody had to go out of their way to make this happen. The only way we’d find that is if we investigated,” Galvin said.

Council member Doug Merriman, who voted against the investigation, asked what, if anything, the invoices would be able to answer.

Galvin said the invoices would clear up who authorized the money and why it was done through the payroll account.

“If someone says [Mayor Robert Chatfield] requested a snowplow be welded and it cost $14,000, that’s fine. But who wrote on the invoice, because according to the town charter it is supposed to be written on the invoice what account is supposed to be debited or credited. If that account was written to be payroll account, then I would want to know who wrote that. If it was written that it should be the maintenance account and somebody entered it into the system as the payroll account, I would want to know how that happened. In any event I want to know how it got paid with two people signing off on it. If it was not being processed against the right account, how did it get processed,” Galvin said.

Chatfield disagreed with the need for the investigation and, on a number of occasions during the meeting, said Galvin had a “vendetta” against him. He offered to bring the invoices to the council during its next meeting.

However, the council agreed that it wanted to hear the explanation directly from Young.

Young declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

Though the council has the power to subpoena since it voted to start the investigation, the consensus among the members was they don’t want to see it get that far and spend money of legal fees.

“I would be thrilled if we could get all of the information surrounding these transactions and have the treasurer give us a report and answer questions,” Galvin said. “The Town Council would ask him to appear. If he didn’t appear the next step would be to find some way to compel him to appear. The compelling of the appearance would involve the town attorney. Hopefully it doesn’t get that far.”

Council member Jeff Slapikas said he would support the motion to have Young appear but not any investigation beyond that one time.

“Some people might be satisfied with what he has to say and some might not. Let’s put another motion on the table if we want to go further than that,” said Slapika, who voted against opening the investigation. “I don’t want this to roll into the money-spending spree.”

Chatfield also voiced opposition to moving the investigation forward and spending money on legal fees.

“What do you think something like this is going to cost for a vendetta,” Chatfield said.

Geary said she didn’t want the council to move forward with the investigation, but the fact that Young has not shown up to meetings when the council requested meant it had no other choice.

“What alternatives do we have? I have said from day one that I don’t want to do this investigation thing. I think it is too serious of a thing. But the fact is we have no alternatives. We have exhausted every other option,” Geary said.