The “Audit” that Wasn’t an Audit

2 May

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw took a break from his busy schedule visiting random cultural sites and eating lunches at various and sundry senior centers, and released an “audit” revealing $70,000 in expenditures over five years that Mr. Mychajliw doesn’t like. The new Republican majority in the legislature commissioned this “audit”, and the best anyone could do was to find about $14,000 per year in allegedly excessive spending each year between  2009 – 2013.

“Audit” gets scarequotes because it wasn’t an audit. Even Mychajliw’s office calls it what it was – a review. It was not subject to any of the requirements or restrictions necessary within an audit environment.

For a $1.1 billion operation, $14,000 per year isn’t that horrible. But don’t tell the Comptroller that.

The manner in which taxpayer dollars were spent is troubling. We are concerned by the blatant misuse of county funds. The lack of oversight on spending leaves us disheartened,” Mychajliw said in a statement announcing the release of the audit

That strong language is out of proportion with the actual findings. The findings showed some pretty mild incidents of  unnecessary and excessive spending, but no “blatant misuse” or some pervasive “lack of oversight”. When does Stefan’s campaign end?

Wasteful? There are a few items that could have been handled differently, but nothing excessive.  Take a look at the major findings.

The 45-page report details nearly $5,000 that the Legislature spent on personal items. These included expenditures for snacks that were provided to outside guests who were honored by legislators at their bimonthly meetings; flowers; a shoe rack and the cost to stock some district offices with toilet paper.

Here’s what Democratic minority chairwoman Betty Jean Grant said about the snacks:

…most the food was purchased for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and the current War Veterans who have served their Country and who are members of the Valor for Valor Committee I created to assist our veterans. The refreshment they consumed after the county hall meetings, were not nearly as expensive as some of the things they lost such as limbs and even the lives for those who did not make it back. Someone needs to be ashamed of this despicable show of narrow-mindedness.

And toilet paper. Toilet paper? Do you remember during the red/green budget fiasco of the last decade, when the county couldn’t afford to stock the bathrooms in the Rath Building with toilet paper, so Charmin donated a truck’s worth?  Setting aside for a moment whether district offices are necessary, if we’re going to have them, are we going to begrudge their bathrooms having county-funded toilet paper? What’s next? Toner? Paper?

The report also notes how the Legislature spent too much on toner for the printers it leased and how it continued to cover the cost of Internet access for one of the Democratic legislator’s district office nine months after it was destroyed by fire.

But better still is how Mychajliw’s release characterizes this:

The Legislature spent almost $5,000 for personal items like flowers, cakes, meals, shoe racks, toilet paper, stamps, potato chips, plastic utensils, tissues, cookies, even soil.

OMG EVEN SOIL!!1!

And if you still don’t think this was a wholly political play, regard this line from the exit conference section of the review:

During the Exit Conference, some concerns were addressed regarding the severity of some of these issues and the verbiage which was used in defining them. Due to this, verbiage in some instances within this report has been changed to more accurately reflect the issues found.

UPDATE: Did you catch this line? 

“I think the most important thing to note is the fact that the Legislature initially wanted us to look at just one year of spending,” Mychajliw said. “When we showed them what we found just over one year, they formally asked us to expand it to five years and go deeper.”

A correspondent notes that this comment is false.This letter from Legislator John Mills, dated February 18 specifically requests a five-year review. The Comptroller’s office’s review entrance letter is dated the same day (efficient!), and notes – ab initiothat the review will be for the 5 year period of Jan 1, 2009 to Dec 31, 2013.  So, the 5 year period was decided on day one, before any data had been compiled, transmitted, and well before any data had been reviewed. Indeed, none of the information was due until February 25th. Nobody ever “formally asked” anyone to “expand it to five years”. There exists no earlier letter asking for a one-year review.

I’ll grant you the internet access thing is, I suppose, “wasteful”, as is the retention of an official photographer – although the photographs are presented to recipients of various awards, and make these people feel appreciated.  But the review itself reveals that Time Warner is refunding the money. There is the matter of a 45-cent stamp for which a staffer was reimbursed three times. I offer that staffer my thoughts and prayers, as he or she works to repay that $0.90 debt to the county. This is petty within the literal meaning of that word, coming from the French petit or small.

We already know that honoring people is most of what the legislature accomplishes.  If you want to talk about wasteful spending, it’s can rationally be argued that having an Erie County Legislature is, itself, fundamentally wasteful; its ministerial, rote “functions” outweigh its discretionary ones.

To give you some perspective, here’s what I wrote about the toilet paper fiasco of ’05.

Charmin wants to donate a truck’s worth of Charmin to the Rath Building. George Holt has already allocated some of his member money to his brother’s son’s girlfriend’s shell company, which knows a guy who can get some toilet paper that fell off a truck. So, they don’t need Charmin.

Thankfully, that sort of intentional and pervasive George Holt/Chuck Swanick style corruption is long gone. So is member money.

This whole thing is a persuasive argument against the continuation of partisan elections for the legislature. If this had been in any way legitimate, it would have been undertaken without the “aha” confrontational tone. None of this stuff is a big, earth-shattering deal, and there is no evidence whatsoever of deliberate waste or wrongdoing. The excessive rhetoric in the review and its accompanying press materials belies the notion that this was an apolitical review of allegedly excessive spending.  It is, instead, a wholly political piece of campaign literature.

And you paid for it.

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24 Responses to “The “Audit” that Wasn’t an Audit”

  1. disqus_g6fqjyhj09 May 2, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    I like the part where they kept time warner internet at a temporary building so that a legislator could continue to use a roadrunner email account instead of their county issued one because “it worked better on his cell phone, and because their assistant was ‘not tech savvy’ and was not familiar with how to use the county email system.”

    Yikes.

  2. Lamont Cranston May 2, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    When does Stefan’s campaign end?
    If the campaign ended there would just be an empty space where the Stefan hologram used to be.

    • hwhamlin May 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      His campaign ends roughly when Little Barry’s does. (Provided Barry doesn’t continue to copy Jimmuh Carter by campaigning ad infinitum.)

      • Lamont Cranston May 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

        Thanks for the perspective from the anti-American scumbag community!

      • hwhamlin May 3, 2014 at 9:28 am #

        Anti-American?
        Curious comment coming from a diehard fan of Obama.
        Little Barry, who takes his cues from his early mentor, the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, and from “God Damn Amerikkka!” Jeremiah Wright. Not to mention the America-hater Bill Ayers.
        Little Barry, whose wife, Big Mooch, was never once proud of her country until it elected Barry.
        Little Barry, whose World Apology Tour set the tone for his administration from the outset.
        Yeah, anti-American. “The Shadow knows.”

      • WNY_Guy May 3, 2014 at 9:37 am #

        Dude, shut up.

      • disqus_g6fqjyhj09 May 3, 2014 at 10:27 am #

        Wow, if Obama’s trying to turn the US into commie land, he’s doing a pretty shitty job of it.

      • hwhamlin May 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

        Didn’t say he wasn’t doing a shitty job. He does a shitty job of a lot of things.

      • Matt May 4, 2014 at 6:43 am #

        The “apology tour” rhetoric strikes again! The lie that was given a “Pants on Fire” rating by politafact not once but eight times. Even if it was true, as if ever admitting to a mistake is a bad thing. You know like leading our allies into a war under false pretenses. Killing thousands of troupes and civilians. That might be something one would apologize for.

      • Alan Bedenko May 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

        Dumb.

      • ckg1 May 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

        Da dumb dumb. (Sorry, Alan…you left that wide open for a joke to be made!)

  3. UncleBluck May 2, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    You can bet that Sefan will use this during his run against Poloncarz, showing how he “uncovered” this “blatant” misuse of county taxpayer money, thus showing he is the “only one” who is honest enough to be the next ECE….but I guess that what you do when you have been fired from the only 2 jobs you ever had relevant to your college degree….

  4. hwhamlin May 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    “And you paid for it.” How much did I pay for this review, performed by salaried employees of the County?
    Is the Comptroller supposed to review expenditures — or is that the job of the County Executive? (I seem to recall Poloncarz doing reviews back when he was the lowly Comptroller.)
    And I love your indignation at its being referred to as an “audit” (by the News).

    • Alan Bedenko May 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

      You should ask Stefan.

      Oh, wait. He’s spent the morning at the WNY Book Arts center and then is enjoying a subsidized lunch at the Lackawanna Senior Center. There’s no telling when he’ll actually be at work, working.

      • hwhamlin May 3, 2014 at 10:06 am #

        Subsidized meal. Appoint a special prosecutor.
        Except, you will recall that morning at the Midday Club when Comptroller Poloncarz enjoyed, as did you, a subsidized (by the members) breakfast at which he was the guest speaker.

      • Alan Bedenko May 5, 2014 at 9:11 am #

        I don’t even know what you’re trying to say here.

      • wnyresident May 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

        And while Mark was saving a butter lamb 😉 And I don’t know if it was on his time or not. I don’t really care. I just thought it was a cute response to your response.

      • Alan Bedenko May 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

        Mark makes policy and is a chief executive. Stefan doesn’t and isn’t.

  5. Megan Corcoran May 2, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    why anyone would trust him is beyond understanding. its embarrassing.

  6. John Wilcox May 3, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    The comptroller sounds like a reporter trying to make something out of nothing on a slow news day. “Poutrage”, I believe it’s called.

  7. Andrew Kulyk May 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    So Comptroller Mychajliw visits cultural agencies that receive county funding, so as to better understand what public benefits those organizations provide, how they dispense the public funds they receive and how they account for that funding?

    I think the Comptroller needs to be dragged through the streets of downtown Buffalo and be savagely beaten by the angered populace. What a horrible horrible person he must be!

    • Alan Bedenko May 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

      His job isn’t to make policy or to make judgments about policy.

  8. HapKlein May 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    I recall a couple of years ago a few of our acute GOP county legislators joined another audit attempt at minuscule micro management by doing an ersatz audit on Medicare Fraud by welfare recipients. The party knew it was onto some huge fraud even though most responsible studies suggested otherwise.

    But just as our erstwhile bunch in County Hall posed for photo op to announce the kickoff of their scrutiny a huge fraud by state wide and NYC medical groups amounting to millions of dollars was uncovered and which brought a lot of top money Physicians seemed to deflate a search for welfare clients stealing bandaids or worse and I never heard anything more.

    But it seems the Party of Lincoln is getting desperate for issues of substance at every level. Now we are condemned to witness the witless search for reasons to undermine the Democrats with meaningless scrutiny.

    Does that Stefan Mychajliw even have a job description? Besides obviously not having much to do maybe he could be sent to school for accounting classes and at least learn proper terminology.

  9. tongram May 4, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    Check out the response Betty Jean Grant clocked in. Maybe Mr. Mychajliw missed a cell phone on the Republican side

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