April 10, 2007
Michael O. Peterson
Chair, Board of Finance
Dear Mr. Peterson:
Please make sure that neither the Comptroller nor the First Selectman speak with any member of the special auditor subcommittee, or with any auditor candidate, regarding selection of an auditor or the auditor’s duties. Both men have been interviewed as part of the investigation, and both of them may be implicated in the alleged conspiracy, since both were apparently aware of events that led to the arrests and did nothing about them. Both have their reputations and careers to think about it and, therefore, have a conflict with the public interest in providing the town with the most complete picture of what happened. There is also the appearance of impropriety to consider.
Further, since the meetings of the auditor subcommittee will not be concerned with the events that occurred, but only with the selection of an auditor, I believe these meetings must, by law, be public and properly noticed pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. If there is disagreement with this, I ask that you and I ask the FOI Commission for the appropriate procedure and what, under the circumstances, would be required to allow the holding of an executive session.
If either the Comptroller or First Selectman does speak with any member of the auditor subcommittee about the selection of an auditor or the duties of the auditor, or if the subcommittee meets in an executive session not approved by the FOI Commission, I will do everything in my power to have the job of selecting and overseeing the special auditor taken from the Board of Finance and handled by an independent individual or body.
Finally, I ask that a forensic auditor rather than a regular auditor be hired, considering the recent arrests and the involvement of some of our town’s most senior officials.
cc: Michael T. Hallahan, Michael J. Freda, Timothy M. Doheny, Kevin R. Kopetz, Edward Swinkoski, Janet McCarty
Here is the letter I received in response:
April 14, 2007
Dear Mr. Wechsler
The purpose of this correspondence is to replv to your letter dated April 10, 2007 regarding the North Haven Board of Finance and the selection of independent accountants to perform the audit of the Town of North Haven for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007. As vou noted the Board of Finance has established a bi-partisan subcommittee "The Subcommittee", comprised of Messer's Doheny, Freda and Hallahan, for the explicit purpose of preparing a Request for Proposal "RFP" for the fiscal year end 2007 audit and a review of the financial internal controls and "Best Practices" of all Town Departments and Agencies, as well as a list of potential independent accounting firms to solicit proposals from. Once proposals are submitted, The Subcommittee will interview potential candidates and make its recommendation of the top choices to the Board of Finance. The Board of Finance will then make the final selection. The independent accounting firm selected to perform the audit and review will decide to whom they need to communicate with in order to perform the required services.
The Subcommittee's meetings will beheld in compliance with the applicable Sections of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.
CC: Kevin J. Kopetz, Timothy M. Doheny, Michael J. Freda, Michael T. Hallahan, Janet McCarty, Edward Swinkoski
Note that Mr. Peterson's letter ignores most of what I say in my letter. It says nothing about communications between the Subcommittee members and the Comptroller (Mr. Swinkoski) and First Selectman Kopetz, and its only reference to these two men's communications with the auditor refers to communications involved in the auditor's performance of services, which I did not mention at all. Most important, Mr. Peterson says nothing about the appearance of impropriety involved in the sort of communications I mentioned in my letter.
Mr. Peterson also does not say whether the Subcommittee meetings will be open or not. Since I suggest that, if we disagree, we ask the Freedom of Information Commission for advice, his saying that the Subcommittee will follow the law is not responsive, because I do not know its interpretation of the law. I do know that the Board of Finance has held closed subcommittee meetings in the past.
Finally, Mr. Peterson ignores my request for a forensic auditor rather than an ordinary auditor.
The most important omission is of my concerns about an ethical problem with the Comptroller and First Selectman being involved in the selection of an auditor, under the circumstances of alleged wrongdoing and their possible awareness of the wrongdoing and failure to act. (I want to make it clear here that the ethical problem is not about any wrongdoing they might have done, but rather about their positions, that is, the fact that the auditor will be hired to check into the accounts of the Finance Department (which the Comptroller now heads) and of the administration as a whole, which the First Selectman heads.)
Every time I have mentioned any possible ethics problem in North Haven, town officials have ignored it and done nothing about it, despite the fact that municipal ethics is what I do (check out my municipal ethics blog). I have no problem with people disagreeing with me - that's what discussion is for - but when an elected official simply ignores someone who lives in town and works in the field of municipal ethics, what does that say? Is it accidental that two of my past ethical concerns involved Joseph Ierardi and Vincent Palmeri, two of the three town officials who have been arrested? Or that an ethics complaint concerning Mr. and Mrs. Ierardi, filed by someone else, was dismissed?
The first Subcommittee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 at 6:00 p.m, at Town Hall Conference Room #1. I will be there to make sure it is open to the public. Please come if you can. We can make a difference.