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Community Development Director Grilled By Oswego Councilors

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OSWEGO, NY – Members of the Common Council took the community development director to task Monday night for a lack of communication and other issues in the wake of a state audit.

Communication between the Common Council and the Community Development Office, “quarterly reports, monthly reports, expenditures and those types of things have all kind of fallen through as far as we haven’t really gotten them, we haven’t seen them come through,” according to Council Vice President Eric VanBuren.

There was a recent audit done by the state and there were a couple red flags that popped up and both of them dealt with Community Development, he added.

According to part of the audit: During an audit of the city’s special grant fund, numerous adjustments were required to correct errors in the fund’s financial statements … that may not have been detected except for auditing procedures. Auditing adjustments that either individually or combined may have a significant affect on the city’s financial reporting process.

It appeared an accountant working in the office wasn’t properly recording adjustments; a lack of review by the director of the office was also noted, according to the audit.

The auditors recommended a monthly review and reconciliation of general ledger balance be performed and reviewed by the director of community development or another responsible official; differences should be investigated and adjustments made in a timely basis to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting; and a knowledgeable accountant be hired to perform these monthly accounting functions and a balance sheet provided to the Common Council, mayor and city chamberlain in addition to the financial information they currently receive.

It is frustrating for the councilors because the community development director is supposed to report directly to the council, according to Mike Todd, “and we continue to ask for things and we continue to be disregarded.”

“I think a lot of us are frustrated with it. We want it to stop. We don’t want it to happen any more. We don’t want to continue to have these auditing problems,” he said.

“We are trying to get this straight,” Mary Vanouse, community development director, replied. “I certainly hope to give you a better report very soon.”

There was a discussion in the spring regarding the office and “we understood there were financial challenges that community development had. We all sat down at one point or another and tried to come up with what the number was to maintain a staff and now it’s sitting in October and there’s been no communication for us to understand how we’re able to pay for all this,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said. “We’re just saying somebody’s got to communicate to us what’s going on.”

Todd pointed out that Oswego Renaissance Association’s (http://www.oswegonyonline.com/#!about-ora/c1wc7) view of community development is something the council favors.

Vanouse asked if it was the council’s desire the association take over the community development office.

“We want a careful discussion with them so that they are running together, not running apart,” Todd said. “It’s the direction the council wants to go in. The whole mindset that’s been going on in the city since the 1970s has failed miserably and we don’t want it.”

“Downtown looks better than it ever has and I know you’ve spent a lot of time, money and energy revitalizing our downtown,” Kaplewicz told Vanouse. “I will say however there are certain things the council has been very clear about what they want. One was more effective communication with this council, particularly we’ve asked for the quarterly reports … we want a handle on how (the money) is being spent.”

Targeting market based housing was another thing council wants, instead of income based, he added.

“We’ve got folks, they earn lots of money at the college and they live in Baldwinsville, they live in Raddison. They reason they don’t come here is because we don’t have enough good quality market based housing,” he said.

To keep the city headed in the right direction, everybody needs to be on the same page, he added. “Some times, I don’t feel that we all on the same page.”

During the lengthy discussion comments such as “maybe we need to find a new director” and “if you don’t like it, find something else,” promoted Assistant City Attorney Tom Reynolds to step in and warn the councilors the discussion was bordering on personnel issues and should be moved to executive session if they continue in that direction.

Kaplewicz recommended the mayor and community development director get together with a few representatives from the council to continue a more in-depth discussion about the program and the director.

The mayor agreed. No timetable was set however.