Defending poor decisions

Attorney Michael Bolender made an appearance at the last Forestville Village Board meeting to address the shoddy and questionable accounting practices spotlighted by a recent audit from the New York state comptroller’s office.

Bolender, who earned a combined salary of $216,557 in 2012 while representing four diminutive villages and towns in the county, did what most municipal attorneys are paid to do when attending a meeting. He defended the poor practices by a village that continues to run as though it is in disarray.

“(The audit) made sure you were keeping abreast of the state’s latest thinking or findings,” he said at the Feb. 26 meeting. “In any small village or town government practices get ingrained over time. Sometimes what was OK in the past is no longer OK.”

What was “OK in the past” and “no longer OK,” according to the audit, Mr. Bolender? Consider these findings by the state office:

“The clerk-treasurer’s records for the water fund were inaccurate, and misrepresented the fund’s financial condition. The clerk-treasurer improperly reported certain project expenditures in the operating fund, making operating costs appear higher than they should have been. The board prepared annual budgets based on this incorrect data.”

“The board relies on the clerk-treasurer to provide the necessary information to prepare the annual operating budget. However, the clerk-treasurer did not provide village officials with complete and accurate historical data and projections on which to estimate revenues and appropriations. The clerk-treasurer did not properly record certain costs associated with the capital project; instead, she included project expenditures with operating expenditures, which resulted in overstated actual operating expenditures that exceeded budgeted appropriations.”

“Errors in fund record keeping and budgeting carried over to the village’s calculation of fund balance and the board’s assessment of the water fund’s financial condition. In addition to discrepancies caused by misstatements of operating surplus (or deficit), we also found that the clerk-treasurer had made two unsupported adjustments to increase fund balance, which were identified as prior period adjustments.”

Upon review, none of these examples were acceptable in running a municipality – in the past or today.

One of the biggest problems with Forestville, especially in recent years, is many of its government leaders do not want any guidance or assistance in running the village from outsiders unless it is an emergency – such as a water crisis – or if it is paying top dollar like it is with Bolender.

In 2012, Bolender was compensated $54,906 by the village – or $78.77 for each of the 697 residents, for legal advice.

His assistance in this mess? He will be studying the audit further and asking for the public’s input. “Sometimes the best answers come from the everyday Joe,” he said at the meeting. “Send us an email or call us.”

Good luck with that, Forestville residents. I have spoken with the deputy clerk who was downright rude when I asked a question regarding a village policy. Other community stakeholders who have attended meetings with concerns have been met with blank stares or told to sit down.

In the end, it seems as if village officials do not want the advice of their constituents. They just want the tax and fee money – even though, in this case, they cannot properly document what they are doing with it.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.