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Feb 9, 2010 4:49 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Budget officer: East Hampton not allowed to have a comptroller

Feb 9, 2010 4:49 PM

East Hampton Town, which just lost its first-ever comptroller, Janet Verneuille, to the Sag Harbor School District, may not have had the legal right to have a comptroller on its staff in the first place. And it doesn’t look like the town will have another one anytime soon, members of the Town Board said at a work session on Tuesday.

The issue came to light after new town Budget Officer Len Bernard did some research into the matter and learned that because state law defines East Hampton as a second-class town because it has a population of fewer than 40,000 people, it is not allowed to have a comptroller.

Mr. Bernard became the budget officer on January 1. Shortly afterward, the board cut Ms. Verneuille’s salary by nearly one-third. Ms. Verneuille resigned her town post at the end of January and replaced Mr. Bernard as the Sag Harbor School District’s business official.

Mr. Bernard said that, in his research, he discovered that the Town Board created the position of town comptroller when it abolished the budget officer position in a resolution passed in September.

He added that the town’s Human Resources Department cited the reason for the deletion of the budget officer position and the creation of the comptroller position was to ensure that the town’s top fiscal manager was accountable to the entire Town Board, not just the supervisor.

Councilman Pete Hammerle, who was the only member present at Tuesday’s meeting who was on the board last September, said that the board made that decision to avoid the situation created when former Town Supervisor Bill McGintee denied members of the board access to his budget officer, Ted Hults.

“When the board began to lose faith, we were told we had no authority,” said Mr. Hammerle. “We wanted somebody who would be less politically affiliated.”

Mr. Hammerle added that before Ms. Verneuille was hired in January 2009, board members did their own research on whether they could create a comptroller position, and he said that they were well aware at that time that they couldn’t have an official town comptroller because they were a second-class town. He said that the board modeled Ms. Verneuille’s position after the comptroller position in the Town of Southold, which is also a second-class town. He said that the Civil Service lists provide for a position of “comptroller” but not of “Town Comptroller” for a second-class town.

“It was simply based on the fact that another town has been using the title and the title was never challenged,” said Mr. Hammerle.
Mr. Bernard said, however, that the resolution creating the position clearly read “Town Comptroller.” He said that the New York State Department of Civil Service recommended that the town consult with its attorney as to whether the position was appropriate. Town attorney Dan Adams said Tuesday that the comptroller position could not legally be justified.

“I just want to know if we’re replacing the comptroller. You’re saying it’s not a legitimate title to replace,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.

“You’re not going to have a comptroller because we don’t need it,” he added.

“Is their issue that they want someone over our budget officer or do they want a CPA?,” asked Town Board member Theresa Quigley. “We have either a comptroller or a budget officer. ... The mere fact that someone has a license in accounting doesn’t mean they have experience in town finance. It’s experience that I rely on in Len. He’s got over 20 years of understanding in how municipal finance works.”

“We want to have someone we trust in. I trust you,” Ms. Quigley told Mr. Bernard.

“I agree with Theresa for the most part in trusting you. It’s your sweater I have a problem with,” quipped Councilman Dominick Stanzione. “But I can sympathize with the difficulty the entire board was in in trying to get a handle on the finances at a time when there was very little information.”

“When the supervisor decides to cut you off from the rest of the board, it’s difficult,” said Mr. Hammerle.

“My door is always open,” said Mr. Bernard.

The board also agreed on Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on noise violations at The Surf Lodge in Montauk. It held a hearing at a work session last Tuesday, but the public was not given advance notice and no opponents of the club’s activities were given the opportunity to speak. The date of the hearing has not yet been established.

The board also plans to hold a deer summit on March 4 at 3:30 in the Town Hall conference room.

“The purpose was to address what is a real issue in the community: How we deal with the exploding deer population,” said Mr. Wilkinson. He said that representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cornell Cooperative Extension, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Long Island Farm Bureau, local environmental groups and “hunters as well as gatherers” will be invited to participate. He added that a second meeting will likely be held at a time when working people can attend.

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makes sense since the town's finances are out of "comptroll".
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Feb 15, 10 12:45 PM
How dare state law consider EH a 2nd class town! Status is very important out here and if word spreads about this there could be a lot of real estate for sale south of the highway.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Feb 15, 10 3:49 PM
so does this mean mcguilty and the rest of the town board was breaking the law when janet was hired?
By asurest (117), easthampton on Feb 15, 10 4:30 PM
Whew! Glad we got that important piece of business out of the way. SO PLEASE START CUTTING THE $26 MILLION DEFICIT ALREADY!
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 15, 10 5:35 PM
...start with a hiring freeze-and whats more appropriate than the harbor master shop. Eliminate Bousson's position and don't back fill Lester (assuming he doesn't return to "duty".
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 15, 10 5:45 PM
I trusted Janet Verneuille. I don't trust Len Bernard and noone else should either, irrespective of title. Everyone should know that Len's job was in serious jeopardy in Sag Harbor because of his incompetence and a deal was cut to get him out of there and into East Hampton before he was fired. Isn't that just what the Town needs... to pick up incompetents from other parts. Don't think so. So far this board has done exactly that in two of the most important positions in Town Government, the Town ...more
By ehboardwatcher2010 (21), sag harbor on Feb 17, 10 12:31 PM
Let's consider that the Town Board that Len worked with left a $10,000,000 surplus and the board that Janet worked with left a $26,000,000 debt....hmmmmm, unsuthorized position by law........hmmmmm, and we should not trust Len? That just does not make sense to me.

I've known Len for 20 years now and have found him honest, trustworthy and completely competent. Someone's playing that old saw "The politics of personal destruction" and I for one , have had enough. Please stop or be VERY specific ...more
By Lost Tribe (66), East Hampton on Feb 17, 10 3:47 PM
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