“I don’t make jokes,” Will Rogers wrote, “I just watch the government and report the facts.” I’ve written often about the lack of transparency, ethical accountability and fiscal due diligence in Lewiston, and although some wish to believe the present majority is shining examples of open, ethical and fiscal frugality, the facts, as John Adams notes, are stubborn things. It doesn’t take a Wharton Business graduate to understand why Lewiston taxpayers are paying a town tax. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assemble the facts as to why.
For 10 years Lewiston has been governed by a majority lacking in an understanding of efficient, fiscally ethical government. A majority that has failed to exercise proper oversight and management of our finances. A majority cited by the state in a 2011 audit for failure to exercise proper oversight with regard to public finances costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars. A majority whose failure to enforce its ethics law cost the taxpayer thousands in stolen public resources. A majority who entered into a contract to operate and maintain a state park costing the taxpayer over $1 million dollars. A majority that has ignored any public input regarding how and where public funds are to be spent. To those wishing to dispute this, I point you to the 2011 and 2014 state audit in which this majority was cited for failure to exercise “proper oversight” of public finances which resulted in “town officials wasting more than $1.1 million by contracting for services that ultimately provided little to no benefit.” Two examples of this failed fiscal oversight is the $365,000 paid two consultants that resulted in the town receiving nothing for its money. But there are those who still refuse to realize the facts, so to you, here are a few more.
Fact one is a riddle, how many lawyers does it take to get a legal opinion? Answer, in Lewiston, 4 maybe more costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, under this majority Lewiston has become a feeding ground for lawyers. There’s a $200 per hour lawyer to negotiate labor contracts and two town counsels charging the taxpayer $30,000 and $39,000 just to attend town board meetings, if any additional legal service is needed the charge is $185 per hour, and if you’re a regular at town meetings they ensure a lot of legal work gets tabled for further review. Some examples of this legal maneuver is the months it took to write an historic preservation law or bereavement policy, to purchase video equipment or to sell a hazmat truck. All extra services being charged to the Lewiston taxpayer. But the town’s support of New York’s bar association doesn’t stop here, the town has hired a special lawyer who is politically connected to oversee its $10 million water line project. This lawyer is so special that while serving as the town’s deputy counsel in 2016 he negotiated a $100,000 contract for his law firm to oversee this project. To those believing this majority shining examples of ethics, please note the town’s ethics policy “no town employee shall engage in any transaction as representative of the Town with any business entity in which they have a direct or indirect financial interest.” Here’s the question, is it ethical to negotiate a $100,000 contract for your law firm while employed by that municipality? Further is it proper oversight that an elected official charged with enforcing the ethics policy failed to raise this question?
Fact two is a question, should the town act as a private contractor for a developer? In 2011 the town was cited for using public finances to undertake drainage work for private developments. In its audit the state cited this majority with paying thousands of dollars to fix drainage problems on private property. In 2016 the town installed roughly 800 feet of drainage on private property. Town officials will be quick to defend this action by saying they were fixing a pre-existing condition and that the developer was going to reimburse the town for costs. Unfortunately, there’s a problem and it comes in the form of the 2011 state audit “in general the town is not authorized to use town equipment and personnel to act as a private contractor, even if someone else, such as a developer, pays for all the costs.” Estimated cost to the Lewiston taxpayer for town labor, equipment and materials roughly $20,000.
Question: why would you install a $145,000 toilet in the middle of nowhere? Follow up question do you think this responsible oversight and decision making of public finances? If you get a chance drive by the “golden” toilet located on Lower River Road.
One final fact, it’s been reported that Lewiston’s fiscal woes is due to a previous town board. In the era of Fake news this is a humdinger. In 2009 Lewiston had over $3 million in cash reserve, a credit rating of AAA and no town tax, 10 years later, cash reserves are depleted, our credit has been down rated and we’re paying a town tax.
As stewards of public funds, elected officials have a responsibility to make decisions that are not only in the best interest of the municipality but of the taxpayer they serve. This responsibility requires that elected officials exercise due diligence when considering and overseeing any financial commitment. The present town board majority, for the past 10 years, has failed to do this, and in the process has wasted millions of dollars that has resulted in the imposing of a town tax.
We, as Lewiston voters, have a chance to turn the page and begin a new chapter of fiscal due diligence and responsibility. The choice and decision will be ours but the final question is this, do we wish to continue with unethical behavior by public officials and lack of fiscal oversight or do we choose a new path and direction?