Mount Vernon officials criticize city comptroller

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MOUNT VERNON – Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard and city council members on Friday discusses Comptroller Deborah Reynolds and what they perceive to be her lack of transparency, accountability and professionalism that have left the city in dire financial straits, according to the mayor.

With a looming COVID-19 second-wave compounding other critical financial needs, the city faces a crucial crossroads – the release of more than $12 million being held by the comptroller or drastic austerity measures including a possible 25 percent cut across all agencies or a 10 percent tax increase on already burdened local taxpayers.

Mayor Patterson-Howard, City Councilmen Derrick Thompson and Marcus Griffith and other local stakeholders detailed what they said was the comptroller’s impact on city residents, their demands for transparency and cooperation, and plans for holding Reynolds accountable. A

“For more than two years, City Comptroller Deborah Reynolds has operated above the purview of the City of Mount Vernon with impunity. She began her abuse of power by sealing off the financial and purchasing system from the executive branch with an illegal firewall in her office, essentially operating as a rogue agency within City Hall administration,” said the mayor.

The city officials listed what they said were instances that Reynolds has acted improperly.

  • Failure to accept tax payments from residents for months.
  • Refused to allow external auditors access to perform testing needed to complete the city’s 2016 audit, which will play a critical role in re-establishing the city’s bond rating.
  • Failed to provide financial reports to city officials for 30 months.
  • Failed to process transfer taxes, which caused state title companies to send a letter threatening to stop doing business in Mount Vernon.
  • Failed to follow legislation passed by city council and Board of Contract & Estimate.
  • Failure to disperse HUD/URA money in a timely manner
  • Failed to pay reimbursements for paving, holding up $2.3 million in CHIPS money over an unpaid $370,000 bill.
  • Failed to sign off the voucher for the State Division of Criminal Justice Services GIVE grant for $220,000.
  • Failed to process school taxes, causing the school district to take over the collection of school taxes and costing the City of Mount Vernon more than $600,000 in revenue.
  • Failure to pay public safety personnel. Blocked the hiring of 11 firefighters in Oct/Nov 2019 because a family friend was not selected for the force.
  • Failure to follow civil service law. Reynolds has refused to produce certified payroll and has been given 33 payroll exception notices that she has ignored. Additionally, she has refused to follow step increases for civil service employees, many of whom are on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, for the last two years.
  • Failure to comply with federal contract requirements related to 666 funds, which is a requirement of the US Department of Justice.
  • Failure to process payments and reimbursements has caused the Veterans Service Agency to lose its accreditation. “Our nation’s heroes deserve so much more than to be insulted by the inaction of our Comptroller,” said the mayor.
  • Failure to accept funds owed and paid to the city. Turning away hundreds of thousands of dollars from revenue-generating departments, including parking tickets, a $300,000 sewer bill in 2019 from the school district and money from PILOT tax payments ($183,000) and various departmental revenues.

The mayor and city council indicated that if Reynolds fails to comply, they will ask State  Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to intervene.

The comptroller did not respond to a request for a rebuttal.