Southampton Town Comptroller Tamara Wright announced at a public meeting last week that she has documentation proving that she does not owe the Internal Revenue Service any money after all.
In response to a question last week by Councilman Chris Nuzzi, Ms. Wright responded on Tuesday morning with an e-mail stating that she will show a copy of the IRS documentation to Town Board members who are interested in seeing it.
Ms. Wright declined to provide a copy of the document to The Press when asked following her announcement at the Town Board meeting on Tuesday, June 22—“I’m not cooperating with you guys on this,” she said—and since then has not returned phone calls or e-mails.
Ms. Wright told the Town Board that in a May 31 letter, the IRS said it actually owes her a refund, and that she expects the lien for approximately $650,000 filed against her to be cleared.
In April, it was discovered that a $651,316.22 lien had been filed against Ms. Wright by the IRS in the Suffolk County clerk’s office in July 2009. An IRS agent had come to Town Hall to garnishee Ms. Wright’s wages last fall and this February, but she and her attorney provided documentation preventing the garnishment. The lien dated back to Ms. Wright’s years of employment in England.
As of Monday, there is still a $651,316.22 lien listed as being filed against her on the Suffolk County clerk’s website. The county typically runs four to six weeks behind in updating the website, a worker in the office said.
While the Town Board members said they are pleased that it appears Ms. Wright’s lien will soon be cleared—Councilman Jim Malone noted that there was a sense of relief when she first told them the news in a recent executive session—some still want to see proof.
Town Board member Chris Nuzzi said he asked for a copy of the document about a week ago and only heard back from the comptroller via Tuesday’s e-mail. He said that she would show it to him and any other Town Board members who are interested, and he will take her up on her offer. “It would be in her best interest as a comptroller to provide the document indicating the mistake the IRS made and that the lien has been released,” he said.
When reached Tuesday, Mr. Malone said that he would not request the document because he does not think it is appropriate for him to sit down with Ms. Wright and discuss a personal legal matter with her. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me individually,” he said. “It’s a board matter. It’s a public matter now.” He said that he would be more comfortable viewing the document in an executive session with the rest of the board.
Town Board member Bridget Fleming said she did not ask to see a copy of the document before Ms. Wright sent out the e-mail—but now that the letter is available, she will also look at it.
Ms. Fleming she said believed from the get-go that the lien was a mistake. “I feel that she has been done a grave disservice by the press in this,” he said. “I’m glad she’s being exonerated.”
Ms. Fleming apologized for the public scrutiny of the lien during the Town Board meeting at which Ms. Wright made the announcement. “So it was completely mistaken—the lien we heard about?” she asked Ms. Wright during the meeting. Ms. Wright said yes and added that the IRS made the mistake because of a lack of information in their system.
Mr. Nuzzi said that in April he asked the Southampton Town Ethics Board to look into the financial disclosure form for 2009 that Ms. Wright filed in April—one day after The Press formally requested the document through the Freedom of Information Law. Ms. Wright’s form was not notarized or dated, and there were a number of unanswered questions on it, and nothing identifying the IRS lien.
Mr. Nuzzi said that he has not yet heard back from the Ethics Board. Town Board member Nancy Graboski and Mr. Malone also said that the Ethics Board should determine whether or not Ms. Wright was remiss in not notarizing or dating her form and leaving some questions unanswered.
Ms. Wright had said that she had had a number of unanswered questions on the form because of the work she did for the town as a consultant prior to being hired as the comptroller. She sought the advice of a town employee in answering the questions, she said.
Ms. Wright’s 2010 financial disclosure form—which was filed on June 15, the deadline for submitting them to the clerk’s office—also does not list the lien, although there is a prompt on the form asking for “all debts ... in excess of $5,000.”
Town Attorney Michael Sordi said that an advisory opinion on whether or not a lien should be disclosed in that question has been requested from the Ethics Board. He added that, in his own opinion, he does not believe a lien is a debt, only a claim.