Picente: Board of Election Audit Reveals Issues

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. today announced that a number of problems have surfaced after a recent independent audit of the Board of Elections that Picente had called for in December.

“When I called for this action, there were concerns that I felt had to be investigated by a third party in order to uphold my responsibility to the taxpayers of Oneida County,” Picente said. “The results of this audit bear out my concerns; my overall feeling regarding this report is that there are serious management issues that need to be corrected. I had hoped that these issues could be addressed in a more collaborative manner than by going through the process of hiring an outside party. However, as part of my obligations to conduct due diligence on county operations, I believe this was a necessary step. I hope that the Board of Elections, working with the Board of Legislators, will now correct what have been exposed as issues.”

The audit conducted by Bonadio & Co. LLP reviewed policies, procedures, and transactions of the Oneida County Board of Elections during the years of 2010 and 2011. The problems that have come to light are representative of a sample of records, which denotes a larger overall problem with the overall functionality of the Board of Elections, Picente said.

The report indicated that the management at the Board of Elections has misclassified the positions of programmers, custodians, and technicians as independent contractors, Based on the findings of Bonadio & Co., these individuals should be classified as employees. “This was an issue I tried to address because improper classification opens up Oneida County to a major liability issue,” Picente said. “However, my concerns on this were ignored..”

Picente said that the report should be the start of major corrective actions at the Board of Elections. “The report we have received makes it very clear that the Board of Elections is not being managed and operated to the standards to which the people of Oneida County have a right to hold County Government, and I want swift, decisive and thorough action to address these flaws.

“A review of the reports demonstrates a systematic disregard for Oneida County’s policies and procedures on the part of the two appointed Election Commissioners.  The most disturbing aspect of these reports is that the Election Commissioners were actually issued draft versions of the auditors’ reports on February 29, 2012, over a month ago.  These draft reports raised all the issues set forth above.  Despite their access to the draft reports, the Commissioners have continued to operate in the same manner.  In fact, just last week, I refused to sign agreements prepared and forwarded by the Commissioners, as the rates had again not been set by the Board of Legislators and as the agreements continued to misclassify the individuals as ‘independent contractors’” Picente said.

Picente said he wants a corrective action plan filed with the Board of Legislators, which has statutory responsibility for the Board of Elections, by April 9th.

Picente cited several key findings in the report:

  • The report raises serious concerns about the misclassification of the programmers, custodians and technicians as independent contractors, and indicates that these individuals should properly be classified as employees.  Last year, the Election Commissioners met with several members of my staff and were advised that the tasks associated with programmers, custodians and technicians should be performed by part-time employees.  The Election Commissioners ignored this advice and instead submitted documentation to enter into independent contractor relationships with individuals to perform these tasks.  As emphasized in the reports, this was likely not the proper course of action and may have exposed the County to unnecessary liabilities.
  • In regards to these “independent contractors”, the reports find that during 2010 and during most of 2011, six individuals were paid for work performed, even though there were no approved written contracts setting forth their pay rate, services to be provided and timing of work.  Further, payments were made for two polling sites that did not have approved written leases. The County has a well-established contract management procedure, designed to ensure clear and consistent understanding of duties and responsibilities and to provide the necessary liability protections to the County.  The complete failure of the Board of Elections to utilize the contract management procedure could have easily resulted in disputes, litigation and possible liability.
  • Although contracts for these “independent contractors” were finally executed in August of 2011, the Board of Elections then proceeded to pay the individuals more than the contracted-amounts.  This indicates either poor management or a blatant disregard of established procedures, or perhaps both.
  • The report indicates that the auditors discovered two Election Day workers that were paid $175 for working as poll site coordinators for the September 2011 primary election, before the position and rate had been approved by the Board of Legislators. In reading the Accounts Payable Report of October 13, 2010 there were actually twelve individuals who were paid $175 for working as poll site coordinators on that date.  Election Law clearly states that the amount to be paid to election coordinators shall be fixed by the County’s legislative body, not unilaterally by the Board of Elections.  At a Fall 2011 meeting of the Board of Legislators, discussing the rates and position titles, one of your members asked the Election Commissioners if anyone had been paid as a poll site coordinator during the September 2011 election. The Commissioners denied that any such payments had been made.  Given the findings in the report, I find the Commissioners’ comments on that day to be perplexing.
  • The reports indicate that the Board of Elections has failed to follow the County’s purchasing laws, rules and procedures.  These failures included failing to obtain written quotes for purchases and making purchases without even submitting a purchase order. The purchasing laws, rules and procedures are established to provide fair and equal opportunities to all in the expenditure of public funds and to avoid all appearances of impropriety.  The failure of the Board of Elections to follow proper purchasing policy is inexplicable, given the fact that the County has a full time Purchasing Department ready and able to assist them with all procurements.