It was by no means a surprise. It was a reminder. A reminder that Dr. Paddyfote is as good a spinmeister and as savvy a BOE boss as this Town has ever seen. The "Medical Insurance Review" that she distributed last night to the BOE Operations Committee speaks volumes to those whom she can count on to swallow its contents hook, line and sinker.
To the rest of us, it is a grand effort to obfuscate and to shift the blame for what happened to Town Treasurer, Ray Jankowski. Not unexpectedly, it addresses very little of the facts about the accounting issue raised by him and provides almost none of the information sought by Member Julie Turk. Is this a sophisticated accounting problem? "No," Ray said, "This isn’t rocket-science."
It’s clear to me that most people at the Meeting don’t understand fund balance accounting. That’s why, for example, Vice-Chair Tom McSherry keeps asking why payments have been made from the account and still seems to think that money has disappeared. But I doubt that Board Members knew anything about what was going on and Mr. Jankowski agrees.
"I’m not pointing fingers at any Board Members," he said this morning after reading the Report. "They’re not an integral part of the process.
"They need to be able to rely on the numbers given to them by their finance people just as the Town Council relies on my Office."
But that may be a reason we have the problem. It’s my understanding that none of the employees in the BOE business office are CPAs or certified in BOE finance. In response to the question by Board Member Bill Wellman, Dr. Paddyfote announced that it was former employee Tom Corbett who did the "estimating" of the amount for this line item, a task she refers to as a "dicey proposition." Tom Corbett attended the Meeting last night but sat in the audience. He does have the requisite qualifications but he is now working for the BOE on a per diem basis. Absent from last night’s Meeting was Assistant Superintendent Tom Mulvihill. I’d like to hear someone ask Tom Corbett some questions. And Mulvihill, too. Maybe Corbett’s motivation was entirely innocent...maybe he thought he was doing the right thing for the kids. Maybe he had instructions. We won’t know unless he’s asked.
An exchange between Bill Wellman and BOE Business Office Member John Turk was getting a bit hot and heavy over the insistence that Corbett used "sound methodologies" to make the estimates that were discovered to be wrong. "Sound methodology?" Bill asked. "We’re off by more than $500,000 each year and you call that ‘sound methodology’? How many teachers, how many books, pay-for-play...what else?"
Turk responded to Bill’s inquiry about the methodologies in the same way they are addressed in the Report. "[W]e believe a traditional method based on recent historical trends present a solid methodology." Mr. Jankowski asks, "Why didn’t they use it...why didn’t they use the real historical data, the actual revenues?" And that’s still the number 1 question and it can only be answered by Tom Corbett.
When did Corbett first learn that there was a problem with this account? According to Dr. Paddyfote’s all-too-carefully-chosen words, "The first indication that the BOE estimates were conservative and cautious occurred when [Corbett] prepared a summary of the BOE’s Medical Expenses and Payments for the March 4, 2008 Operations’ [sic] Committee."
"Not true," says Ray whose relationship with Tom Corbett goes back many years. "In July or August of 2006 I discussed the problem with him although I didn’t reduce it to writing." "Also, in February of this year I raised the same concerns in a Meeting in the Loretta Brickley Conference Room. JeanAnn was there with Lisa Diamond, Tom McSherry, the Mayor and Michel Gutman. I asked them to look at this closely."
The last Section of the Report is entitled "Future Considerations" and many Members of the Committee said that they wanted steps to be taken to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. "The only way that we’re going to get beyond this is to have an open, transparent relationship with the Town," said former Chair Wendy Faulenbach. I agree. But that means that the BOE Finance people have to show up when the Mayor asks to meet with them, the Superintendent and the BOE leadership to discuss an upcoming budget. They’ve failed to attend such meetings at least two years in a row and the whispers in the hallway are that the Superintendent tells them not to.
How can there be budget "interplay" between the Town and the BOE, as Chair Lisa Diamond called it, if the BOE Finance people are prohibited from attending meetings?
There are still facts to be uncovered but they are not as important as the necessity of changing the BOE culture that thinks it is not part of the Town. After all, the money we're talking about belongs to all of the taxpayers. The keys are transparancy and accountability, concepts that don’t sit well with a Superintendent who holds dear her authority and control.