Mount Vernon Public Library finances under investigation
The Westchester District Attorney’s Office is investigating the finances of the Mount Vernon Public Library after years of poor accounting and questions about $ 50,000 debit card purchases.
The investigation allegedly began after an interim report last month by an accounting firm hired by the library board found more than 1,400 transactions totaling $ 4.9 million that had not been properly recorded over the years. last seven years. Of these were almost 600 with the debit card from 2014 to 2017.
DSJCPA did not provide any details, but said it had found “questionable transactions that do not correspond to the normal course of a library’s business.”
Members of the Save Mount Vernon group have pushed prosecutors to investigate. Jesse Van Lew, co-founder of the group and former library worker, said Wednesday he was unsure whether crimes had been committed during seven years of financial mismanagement and poor oversight, but that is why an investigation is being called for. necessary.
“We didn’t hit the bull’s-eye on any individual,” said Van Lew, who also sent information about the library’s finances to the attorney general and state comptroller. “But we’re not going to let that get swept under the rug. Investigate and see where it goes.”
Jess Vecchiarelli, spokesperson for District Attorney Mimi Rocah, said the office was investigating the case but would not comment on an ongoing investigation. She urged anyone with information to call the office hotline at 914-995-TIPS.
The New York State Board of Regents, which oversees libraries, also reviews the finances of the library.
DSJCPA was hired this summer to serve as library treasurer and reconcile finances. Another accounting firm had been unable for several years to perform an audit due to incomplete records. The audit is necessary, in part, for the library to regain its tax-exempt status that had been stripped from it in recent years because the reports had not been filed with the IRS.
The report also stated that it was impossible to determine whether the current year’s $ 4.77 million budget is reasonable given the incomplete information.
The library had not had a treasurer in recent years, but hired City Council Chairman Marcus Griffith as its bookkeeper in March 2020 for an annual salary of $ 65,000.
According to the company’s report, Griffith gave the DSJCPA considerable “rejection” in its efforts. It has been criticized for not completing tasks in a timely manner and for refusing to give them login access to third-party providers that handle insurance, health coverage, pensions and other areas.
“Sir. Griffith has shown complete disrespect to DSJ and myself as administrator appointed treasurer,” wrote Michael Williams of DSJCPA in his report. “He refuses to work with us. and follow us. He lets us know that he does not recognize my appointment as treasurer and that we should work under his direction to organize the books and records.
Griffith, who unsuccessfully ran for city comptroller this year, did not respond to phone and text messages.
The chairman of the library board for four of the seven years was Oscar Davis Jr., although the board chose its new member, Vivien Salmon, as chairman this summer.
She did not respond to emails.
Asked to comment on the library’s finances, Davis declined to discuss details, citing the ongoing work of the DSJCPA.
“We are awaiting their full report to make a final decision on our course of action,” Davis wrote in an email. “As trustee of public funds, the Council reserves the right to take any appropriate legal action.”
Davis has been criticized by library staff for a hands-on approach to library management which he believes is inappropriate for elected board members. And an ongoing lawsuit accuses him of sexually harassing three men Davis helped find library jobs when they were teenagers.
Specific details of debit card purchases were not included in the report. Staff said the card was always kept in the trade office and would have access to it to purchase snacks and supplies for various programs if needed.
That access appeared to end towards the end of 2016, they suggested. Most of the transactions reported by DSJCPA had already taken place, although some continued until June 2017.
Although union officials said a debit card was in Davis’ name at one point, he insisted that “no card was issued in my name for the period in question.”
He did not respond to a follow-up question asking him to clarify whether he was talking about 2014 to 2017 or any of the past seven years.
The accounting firm’s report echoed concerns from the union representing library workers over financial management, said CSEA president Christopher Williams, a senior clerk who worked at the library for 34 years.
“The library didn’t have a financial team in place to figure out what to do,” Williams said. “The board, while trying to be frugal, is not spending taxpayer dollars the way it should be.”
Doris Hackett, a library supervisor who is vice president of the union, posted photos of peeling paint and stained carpets on Facebook and expressed her anger that the physical appearance of Westchester Central Library had not improved during the many months the building was closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, she said, they spent the money installing security cameras that staff complained of being intrusive.
The library may have reopened this year, but union leaders say staff cuts have prevented some programming and forced the computer lab to close, a major draw for library users.
Part-time workers were made redundant last year, but the board said the positions would be filled in December.
“We know they saved money by reducing staff, so what are the money for,” Hackett said. “OK, you’ve reopened the doors, but we’re not delivering the services the community expects.”