NYC Public Advocate, Comptroller, Manhattan and Queens Borough Presidents all Cited for Missing Funds, Equipment
Is anyone minding the store?
It looks like there are no public officials anywhere in New York City who honor the public trust.
GOTBAUM GOT $LOPPY
By STEPHANIE GASKELL
July 8, 2004 -- Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who's supposed to be a watchdog over city agencies, is running a loose financial ship in her own office - with tens of thousands of dollars in equipment unaccounted for, according to an audit.
"We found deficiencies including incomplete personnel files, discrepancies in timekeeping records, incomplete inventory lists, equipment not always identified, vendor invoices paid late and bids not solicited when required," Comptroller Bill Thompson reported.
Gotbaum, whose job includes investigating complaints about city agencies, controls a $1.9 million budget and employs 35 people.
A sample check of 28 employee files found that none of them had submitted an I-9 form, which proves that someone can legally work in the United States, or proof of city residency.
"Without complete personnel files, the public advocate may hire employees who are not eligible to work for the city," Thompson said.
The audit found that timesheets also were not always reviewed and vacations weren't always approved.
Fifteen percent of Gotbaum's inventory - totaling nearly $20,000 - was unaccounted for.
Auditors found 43 computers in an office that were not on the inventory list.
In a written response to the audit, Gotbaum's office agreed with most of the findings.
"These are routine bureaucratic issues," said spokeswoman Anat Jacobson.
"We have already implemented several internal system changes and are in the process of implementing others recommended by the comptroller's office."
Meanwhile, Thompson also found flaws with the offices of the Manhattan and Queens borough presidents.
Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields was cited for not documenting how $50,300 in grant money was spent, failing to keep accurate inventory records and sick leave abuse by staffers.
Fields also paid several employees less than their minimum job-title salary including one employee who lost out on $11,974 a year.
In Queens, Borough President Helen Marshall's office, auditors found that timesheets were incomplete or unapproved, and several employees were making more than their salary range allowed.
Both borough presidents said they had already agreed to fix the problems.
July 8, 2004
Gaps in Reports by Campaign of Comptroller
By MIKE McINTIRE, NY TIMES, July 8, 2004
As guardian of the city's finances, Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. produces audits that take note of every misplaced jot and tittle on the books of municipal agencies - last month he raised questions about the purchase of $4.99 orange socks for prison inmates.
But when it comes to reporting the details of his campaign's finances, Mr. Thompson, a Democrat and a possible candidate for mayor next year, has often been less than thorough.
More than 150 contributions totaling $178,450 to Mr. Thompson's 2005 campaign - many of them from lawyers, investment bankers and others with a potential interest in the comptroller's activities - include no information about the donor's occupation or employer, according to a review of campaign finance data. Election rules require that such details be disclosed to help the public understand why a contributor may be supporting a particular candidate.
The omissions make it difficult to learn the full extent to which some business interests are supporting Mr. Thompson, who as comptroller manages the city's $80 billion in pension funds, oversees the sale of city bonds and audits municipal spending.
Suri Kasirer, a political consultant and professional fund-raiser for the Thompson campaign, said any incomplete submissions to the New York City Campaign Finance Board would be corrected. She said that her staff "is pretty aggressive in checking for that information" but that not every contributor provided it, requiring the campaign to follow up with phone calls or letters.
"We make every attempt to get data on employer and occupation on every single contributor," Ms. Kasirer said. "There's thousands of contributors, and it's kind of a hard process."
The review of Campaign Finance Board records shows that as of January, the end of the last reporting period, the comptroller's campaign did not divulge the occupation or business affiliation of more than one out of every 10 individual contributors.
For instance, a search for contributors affiliated with Cybersettle, an online company hired by the comptroller's office in February to mediate legal claims against the city, turns up nothing. However, the company's president, Charles S. Brofman, contributed $2,500 to Mr. Thompson last year, and his association with Cybersettle was not disclosed.
A search for contributions by executives of Walton Street Capital of Chicago, a pension fund manager specializing in real estate investments, found three totaling $6,000. But two other executives from the company, whose identities were not reported, donated $6,500 more.
Similarly, just one official of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based investment house, was reported to have donated the maximum of $4,950 last July, when, in fact, a second Carlyle official made a $4,950 contribution on the same day.
Certainly it is not uncommon in the frenetic world of political fund-raising, where millions of dollars are collected from thousands of contributors, for errors and omissions to occur. But given Mr. Thompson's role as chief financial officer of New York, and the strong possibility that he will seek the city's top elected job in 2005, the quality of campaign finance information submitted on his behalf is especially relevant.
Molly Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Finance Board, said that if the board's auditors found that a contribution of more than $500 did not meet disclosure rules, it would be ineligible for public matching funds. Candidates for citywide election in 2001 were required only to make their best efforts to provide occupation and employment information, but the law was strengthened for the 2005 election to make such disclosure mandatory, she said.
"Contributor information is not that meaningful for the general public or journalists unless it is put into some kind of context," Ms. Watkins said. "People can use the occupation and employer information to help make a determination if a business is buying influence with the candidate."
The role of business interests in financing campaigns has loomed unusually large this year, in part because of a proposal by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to drastically limit contributions to municipal candidates from contractors doing business with the city.
Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican who financed his 2001 campaign with $73 million of his money, argues that political contributions from those seeking city work is a corrupting influence.
Among Mr. Bloomberg's potential challengers in 2005, the two city officials who had raised the most funds as of January are Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker, who reported $2.5 million, and Mr. Thompson, with $1.5 million. Candidates are due to file updated reports on July 15.
A review of contributions to Mr. Miller's campaign also found some donors with no occupation or employer information provided. However the total, $91,500, represented a much smaller percentage of his overall contributions than did Mr. Thompson's.
In addition to lacking a business or line of work, the names of some donors to Mr. Thompson's campaign appear to have been reported improperly, making them easy to overlook.
For example, not only is there no record of Mr. Brofman's association with Cybersettle, but a conventional search for Mr. Brofman himself also turns up nothing, because his full name was erroneously entered in the field reserved for last names only.
In an interview, Mr. Brofman, a lawyer whose White Plains firm provides litigants a confidential forum for exchanging settlement offers, said his contribution in June 2003 had no connection to the two-year demonstration project he began with the comptroller's office earlier this year. Under the arrangement, Cybersettle receives $100 for each claim that is successfully settled.
Campaign records as of January show that Mr. Brofman, who contributed to the unsuccessful bid for mayor by Mark Green, a Democrat, in 2001, had made no contributions to candidates other than Mr. Thompson in this election cycle.
"I've been contributing to Democratic candidates for a gazillion years," Mr. Brofman said. "We had no relationship with the City of New York at the time the contribution was made, and since our work began with the city there have been no contributions."