WATERLOO — With details to be worked out, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors voted 10-4 Tuesday to launch an investigation into the actions of former county manager John Sheppard and former Finance Director Brandi Deeds regarding county finances.
The motion for the probe was not on the board agenda but came up at the end of the meeting.
It states that the auditing firm of The Bonadio Group did an audit and notified the board of the current condition of the county’s financial conditions “which has resulted in having to extend auditing services beyond the terms of the contract.”
The resolved section of the motion states that the board “does hereby authorize an outside and independent investigation, due to the facts brought forth by the Bonadio audit.”
It also states the probe should look at “the mismanagement and mis-leadership that has led Seneca County down a path that may well cost over $100,000 in expenses for the extended audit.”
It notes the need to hire former county treasurer Nick Sciotti at more than $43 an hour to be a financial consultant and the cost of overtime required by the finance department staff in assisting in the audit “to make sure there is no wrongdoing that took place by the leadership at that time.”
Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti made the motion and David Kaiser of Romulus offered a second.
Voting for the motion were Lorenzetti, Kaiser, Bob Hayssen of Varick; Greg Lazzaro, Paul Kronenwetter and Ralph Lott of Seneca Falls; Ernest Brownell of Junius; Lisa Hochadel of Waterloo; Michael Reynolds of Covert; and Lee Davidson of Lodi.
Opposed were board chairman Bob Shipley and Don Trout of Waterloo, Ron McGreevy of Tyre and Walt Prouty of Ovid.
Lorenzetti said she did not want the board to discuss the matter in executive session or to refer it to a committee. She said that’s why she brought it to the floor with a motion to waive the rules to allow it to come to the floor for open discussion.
“Those opposed to this tried to get it referred to committee, but I was hoping for the Rule 29 vote, which needs a two-thirds vote. When I got that support, I brought it to the floor for a vote,” she said.
“I tried to get answers by going through the proper channels, including filing of FOILs. The chairman of the board did not keep me in the loop as minority leader. He did not support my efforts and the county attorney said I was on a fishing expedition,” she said. “I brought up the need to get answers weeks ago and was put off. I felt I had no recourse. This goes beyond finances, which the audit is dealing with. I want to see if the actions of the leadership of the finance department and county manager’s office involved wrongdoing that contributed to the situation.”
Sheppard resigned, effective Sept. 4. Deeds resigned, effective Aug. 1. Mitch Rowe has been hired as interim county manager. The board appointed Halle Stevens as finance director Tuesday night.
Lorenzetti said she’s open to discussion of options on how to and who could conduct the investigation. She said she’s asked Rowe for suggestions and the matter may be discussed at the Sept. 25 committee meetings if not resolved before then.
She said the Sheriff’s Department has offered to conduct the investigation as one option.
In an email, Kaiser said he seconded the motion calling for the independent investigation for several reasons.
“I understand that the estimate for the costs associated with straightening out the county finances could be up to an excess of $100,000 and that doesn’t include the cost of the secondary damage done to the county due to the disarray of that department,” Kaiser said. “Various grants were put in jeopardy and projects were pursued and funded without any true knowledge of where the funds would be coming from.”
Kaiser said that over the last year and a half, he and others questioned several county capital projects and could not obtain clear financial information regarding their funding or even necessity.
“The Board of Supervisors owes it to the taxpayers and the many county staff who felt stifled from bringing these problems forward and understanding as to how this all came about,” he concluded.
Shipley, in an email, said the motion was “hastily made to create an additional, independent investigation into our county’s previous leadership. While I join my colleagues in demanding the highest level of accountability to all Seneca County residents and businesses, I believe this motion was ill-conceived.’’
He said the motion was made under Rule 29 and not referred to a committee. He said this procedural move is reserved for unavoidable, urgent legislative priorities.
“In this case, the matter should have been brought forward two weeks ago when meaningful dialogue and input could have been incorporated to further define and address the scope of an otherwise ambiguous resolution,” Shipley said.
He also said an independent audit has been underway for several weeks, an annual audit of county finances.
“Given the transition of several key leaders, this year’s audit was expanded to accommodate additional areas. To date, the audit team has evaluated a considerable amount of information and had corrected errors mainly related to account reconciliation,” he said. “At this time, we have been given no indication of any improprieties by former employees to warrant the level of suspicion that appears rampant from some individuals.”
Shipley said the board has moved in a bipartisan way to hire Rowe and Stevens, who he said have the full support of the entire board.
“Their appointments demonstrate the positive outcomes that come from working toward solutions rather than divisive and selfish actions that are so often motivated by personal vendettas or political agendas,” he concluded.
The board voted 11-3 to allow it to come to the floor without first going through committee.