02 November 2009

$9Million Dollars?...Well How Much Does a New Form of Government Cost Then?

How does $9 Million dollars disappear from the county general fund?

Our county leader, Board of Supervisors Chair Art Baer says that no one is responsible. But despite his assertion, there are people responsible and they need to be held accountable.
But first a few things need to be stated and understood. One of the most important things to know is that not only is Ken Wilber the County Treasurer, but he receives a separate salary as budget director. So for anyone to seriously claim that there was no way for Ken Wilber to have known about this issue is an outrage. He is County Treasurer and Budget Director. How could he not have known? Either he mislead the public, or he is incompetent. Whichever it is no longer matters. The entire Board of Supervisors, Democrats, Republicans and Independents should immediately call for County Treasurer Ken Wilber's resignation.

As for Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Paul Mossman, he needs to immediately explain to the public why he conducted his department's accounting to the Board of Supervisors and to the public in such a clearly shoddy manner. If he is unable or unwilling to clarify the answer to this question, he should be dismissed.

But there are other questions that need asking as well. How long has Chairman Art Baer known about this fiasco? What about the Chairs of the various committees with budgetary oversight and oversight of DSS, that should have caught this issue? How much will this scandal cost the taxpayers of Columbia County in increased borrowing costs? Will there be penalties for having lied to bond holders who purchased our debt instruments in good faith and now find the county to have overstated its fiscal health?

On the issue of the dismissal of Pattison, Koskey, Howe and Bucci: It is no wonder that Pattison, Koskey, Howe and Bucci has been silent. Chairman Baer has been reported as saying that he would "go nuclear" if Koskey breaks that silence. Now there are rumors that Koskey is one of bidders on One City Centre. The failure of Art Baer to release the results of the bidding process only fuels the fire that we are not getting the whole story.

The purchase of Ockawamick, the move of DSS, the relocation of Pine Haven, the St. Charles Hotel as homeless shelter…and now the write down of millions of dollars from the general fund. Our county has lurched from one misguided and not thought through proposal after another. Now we have the current scandal, all presided over by a Chairman not elected by the people of Columbia County, but by the some of the residents of the Town of Hillsdale.

All of this points out the real problem in Columbia County. Our form of government is a breeding ground for secrecy, nepotism, lack of accountability and corruption. For decades the Republican majority did not even allow Democrats on the Board to see the budget before it was approved by the Republican majority. The Democrats were inconsequential in the process. While there has been limited improvement to what is shared with the minority, due to Democratic increases in representation on the Board; much of our county government continues to operate in secret. This is the real reason for this scandal and it will never end until Republicans no longer hold the majority on the Board of Supervisors.

There are only a handful of counties in New York which still have Boards of Supervisors. Most have moved to County Legislatures with an Executive who is accountable to the voters of the entire county, not just one of the towns. In the next few months I will be dedicating a substantial part of my time to help create a public groundswell of support to end our antiquated form of government. It is time to replace it with one that is accountable for the decisions it makes. One where the party in the minority has the same access to information as the majority, regardless of which party is in power. I urge all of the residents of Columbia County to do the same. Open government with fair and thoughtful representation is what every citizen deserves.
Now is the time for Columbia County to move to a County Legislature and County Executive.

Victor Mendolia

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