This letter is in response to the Aug. 3 Publisher's Notebook column (in a local daily paper) regarding the Westfield Fire Department audit.
For years, even before I was elected mayor, I have been very critical of the financial situation at the Fire Department.
I have always supported the fire department when the fund-raising letter was sent out every October. In 1995 and 1996, my checks were endorsed by the exempt association. In my opinion this was a violation of the law and also a co-mingling of money.
In 2003, I sent letters to both the state comptroller's office and the attorney general. My response from the comptroller's office was that they were not in the business of auditing fire departments. The attorney general's office turned it over to the Chautauqua County district attorney's office and that is where it died.
In that same year, the village administration made efforts to rectify the situation. The services of the village outside auditor were offered to the fire department in order to assist them with record keeping. At the same time the auditor examined the records of the games of chance and made recommendations for improvement of record keeping. The village administration made some requests to the fire department, which were apparently never followed.
In September of that year, I made recommendations to then Mayor Ron Catalano in regard to my reservations of the lack of accountability at the fire department. This problem was one of which prompted me to run for mayor.
Since my election in 2005, I have tried to work with both the fire department and the Exempt Association in an attempt to separate the two in an amicable manner. Even though the three fire chiefs had the power to make this separation, they failed to do so.
In 2009, I requested New York State Racing & Wagering for assistance regarding the fire department's managing the accounts of games of chance. They spent about three months doing a part-time investigation attending and participation in the bingo games held at the exempt association building where the games are held. The result was that they found no deficiencies in the reports that are mandated to be submitted, however, they did find some problems in the department accounting system. They were satisfied there were no violations in regard to their regulations.
At the regularly scheduled Village Board meeting in February 2011, a resolution was passed to hold a public hearing for the formation of a Board of Fire Commissioners.
On March 21, 2011, a public hearing was held to hear comments regarding the formation of a Board of Fire Commissioners. All comments were heard and recorded and made a part of the minutes of the board. It was a unanimous decision by the Village Board to approve the motion. The Board of Fire Commissioners consists of one member of the Village Board, one from the Town Board, two from the Fire Department and one mutually agreed upon the fire department and the Village Board.
In November 2011, I made a formal request to the state comptroller's office to audit the Westfield Fire Department. During February, March and April, members of the comptroller's office reviewed records for the past two years. The recent report from that department was the result of my request.
Since receipt of their report, most of all of the recommendations have been instituted and finalized. There are one or two that will be completed in the very near future.
As you know from reading our other comptroller's reports, they never name any one individual as to the cause of the problems. I take responsibility for the problem which I have tried to correct since my tenure as mayor. I wanted to furnish you with background that I have been aware of the problem for years and have made several attempts to change the way things are done. I also take responsibility for finally succeeding in getting the problem corrected.
During this time, there are several of the "old guard" members of the fire department that have an immense dislike of me. As a matter of fact, when I first ran for mayor, I went to a fire department meeting looking for their support. Seven members spoke up and said, "If you get elected, I will resign," and they are still there. Maybe now that there is accountability for funds, they will keep to their word.
Village of Westfield Mayor