Mount Vernon: Why I asked for Federal Monitor in Impasse with Comptroller and Council--Mayor Thomas

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Mayor Thomas.

[Op-Ed]

On Friday I vetoed the illegal 2019 budget adopted by the City Council because it neglects serious, legally mandated obligations like the remediation of Memorial Field, DPW yard, broken bridges and the repairs of our ancient sewers.

Where do we go from here? I'm exploring ways that the City Council's budget can be revised or rescinded since it violates agreements with county, state and federal governments related to Memorial Field and our broken sewers.

Aside from the illegal budget, there's the matter of Comptroller Deborah Reynolds not paying the city's bills.

The situation is becoming dangerous because the total amount of unpaid bills adds up to at least $2.3 million dollars. Below is an excerpt from correspondence from Commissioner of Management Services Brett Erasmus:

"The total invoices that were unapproved or approved but unpaid by the Comptroller's office at the end of the second quarter last year was $1,117,520. That figure grew to $1,685,175 at the end of the third quarter last year. The total invoices that were unapproved or approved but unpaid by the Comptroller's office as at the time of writing this letter was $2,358,769. We have the detailed support for all of these figures. We welcome the Comptroller's office to reconcile this list with their records."

How did we get to this point? On Friday I appeared on Father Gassie's radio show and I used an analogy.

Imagine going to the bank and the teller says you have $1,000 and you only want $50 and the teller says no. Call the teller the City Comptroller.

You then complain to the bank manager, in this case the City Council, and you tell them you need the money to buy toilet paper for senior centers. The bank manger tells you there's nothing they can do.

So you have to go to court, that's the regional bank manager. The court says they need time to look at the facts.

In the meantime, your phone is blowing up from debt collectors and you're in the middle of all this chaos. Be it toilet paper or Memorial Field, we have the money to make changes, but the City Council and comptroller are in cahoots.

You also have to ask why they don't do basic things, like adopting a budget on time or paying for audits?

No response from the City Council or the comptroller suggests that the delays and failures to act tie to nothing other than politics.

On Friday Judge Gerald Loehr warned the City Council about their responsibilities.

"It is the court's recommendation that the budget not be enacted unless or until it includes dollars set aside for the Memorial Field project," Judge Loehr wrote in his opinion.
I believe in policy. Look at the facts:

The comptroller will not release or transfer unused federal funds to pay for sewer repairs. Mount Vernon hasn't had a real capital plan since 1987.

The city's credit rating by Moody's has been withdrawn because the City Council won't pay for needed audits.

On Friday, I asked our attorneys to ask the U.S. federal court to appoint a monitor to hold the City Council and comptroller accountable and to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Hopefully, a higher power can force our local leaders to do their jobs for the people.

Richard Thomas is Mayor of Mount Vernon, New York.

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