City tackles money-control issues
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | August 17,2013
While city aldermen appear largely in agreement on whether to audit the Recreation and Parks Department, questions about the city’s financial controls are just getting started.
A discussion of the city’s policies on financial control is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, but aldermen are already putting forward ideas and staking out positions this week.
Alderwoman Sharon Davis said any proposals for change should come from the administration.
“I’m not here to present the solution,” she said. “I’m here to receive a solution and weigh in on it.”
She said the aldermen’s role is not to wade into the day-to-day operation of the city and questioned the effectiveness of any new measure the board might adopt.
“The accountability first starts at the department-head level,” Davis said. “I think you can pass all the policies you want. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re not followed.”
Alderman Jon Kiernan recalled how, as a store manager, he would randomly spot-check paperwork, calling customers to make sure returns or layaways were what they appeared to be. If the city found a way to adopt that strategy, he said, the department heads would know they were being watched.
Alderman John Cassarino, who served as mayor from 1999 to 2007, said that during his time running the city he signed each check personally.
“That can lead to error, John,” City Treasurer Wendy Wilton replied, going on to characterize the system when she took over in 2007 as “an absolute ... mess” and that the automated system she instituted was much more secure.
Wilton described how she has the sole authority to print checks, which is only done after two of the three members of the Board of Finance — herself, Mayor Christopher Louras and Board of Aldermen President David Allaire, sign the warrants.
Allaire has said that while he receives copies of the warrants, he typically only signs them when the mayor is on vacation and unavailable to do so.
Alderman David Wallstrom said that if Allaire was not typically signing warrants, the aldermen should review the structure of the Board of Finance.
“If one-third of our Board of Finance is not available as much ... we’re losing one-third of our oversight,” Wallstrom said.
Allaire took exception to that comment.
“I’m there at every Board of Finance meeting,” he said. “Whether I sign the warrants or not, that’s moving away from what the discussion ought to be, which is oversight.”