Accounts payable

West Haven hears MARB’s frustration with progress or lack of it

WEST HAVEN – Some members of the Municipal Accountability Review Board are running out of patience.

West Haven has been under some level of control by the State Council since 2017, with the aim of helping the struggling city to recover and develop systems and processes to become solvent. Some MARB members believe the city has not worked fast enough and, at its recent subcommittee meeting, informed city officials.

” You have a problem. This is a huge problem: you can’t control your money, and most importantly, you don’t know where it is. It’s even worse, ”said Stephen Falcigno, board member, former CEO and Chairman of Statewide Meats and Poultry and member of the Woodbridge Police Commission. “You really have to get your arms around this faster than you really are. “

Although West Haven reported a positive fund balance in its current budget, some MARB members – including Bureau of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw – said the city lacked internal processes and structures as well as internal policies.

The board’s urgency became more apparent after former state representative Michael DiMassa and John Bernardo, both former city employees, were arrested after allegedly embezzling $ 636,000 in funding Federal city pandemic relief with a shell company. DiMassa had received City Council approval to act as one of three people with the authority to manage the city’s allocation of federal money from the CARES Act; It is alleged that about a month after that December 2020 vote, he created Compass Investment Group LLC, whose invoices show he received tens of thousands of federal dollars from the city.

In the process, the city’s finance director, Frank Cieplinski, said the city’s finance and purchasing departments did not have enough people to thoroughly examine suppliers; he said he relies heavily on the honor system among the city’s department heads that they’ve done their due diligence.

Cieplinski told MARB board members that some things have changed over the past few months that could potentially spot fraud next time around, but not all.

“Each time a supplier request comes to us, we modify the required form. We need additional contact information, any supplier inquiries are processed when we look at the secretary of state’s website to verify that it is a real business, we review all the information that is find there in terms of contacts or managers – everything you need to see if these people are employees of the city or are related in any way to the city, ”he said. “Other than that, we haven’t changed this process. That would be part of what the new purchasing manager will bring to the table with his sourcing and purchasing expertise.

The City intends to hire a full-time procurement officer for the purchasing department, which currently has the equivalent of half an employee. On Monday, city council is expected to vote on whether it should approve the addition of two city government positions – the purchasing manager and a purchasing specialist. According to documents on the council’s agenda, the two positions are expected to cost the city about $ 76,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, which Cieplinski suggested paying from the overfunding of the replacement payment. state taxes.

Some MARB members have made suggestions that they believe are easy solutions the city could come up with immediately.

“I generally agree with the idea that the finance department cannot take responsibility for verifying that the services have all been provided: this responsibility rests with the head of the department,” said Tom Hamilton, member of the board of directors. administration, CFO of Norwalk Public Schools. “One of the things I would offer is an additional level of control that could be put in place – purchases over a certain amount might require more than one approval, which would provide additional segregation of duties if something went wrong. on who signs above.

Christine Shaw, State Treasurer Shawn Wooden’s representative on the board, agreed that it is “unreasonable” to assume that the city has enough resources for the finance department to check all assets. and services.

But not all of the board members have said they are patient enough to continue to wait for the city to make those hires.

“We continue to find excuses as to why these things are not happening,” said Patrick Egan, risk manager for the Town of Fairfield.

When McCaw’s representative on the board, Kimberly Kennison, asked if Cieplinski could focus on maintaining tax controls while giving his “blessing” to someone else to write departmental policies and procedures, Egan said he didn’t think it should take that long.

“The writing is over there. This is not the first time that someone has had to write policies and procedures for an accounts payable program, ”he said.

Kennison said it would be necessary for the city to measure these expectations with its government, so these procedures should be its own instead of neighboring municipalities.

Egan said he doesn’t believe any real progress is happening.

“The conversations we have now are the conversations we have had for almost two to three years,” he said.

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