Conners audit alleges McCoy backers did campaign work on county time

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin

Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners 

ALBANY COUNTY — After receiving “numerous complaints of time abuse” by county employees who were alleged to have been doing political campaign work on county time, an investigation into the allegations by the Albany County Department of Audit and Control is being hamstrung by County Executive Daniel McCoy’s office, according to County Comptroller Michael Conners II.

Conners is leaving office at the end of the year.

The anonymous complaints alleged that county employees worked on McCoy’s 2015 re-election bid while on county time, “punching in and going home and returning at the end of the day to punch out,” Conners said on Monday. 

The audit is also investigating allegations that a few county employees hold “seldom-show jobs,” in addition to “other irregularities concerning time and attendance.”

Conners said the results will be released before Christmas.

Asked if the alleged seldom-show jobs were held by people related to McCoy, Conners said he’d prefer to not comment and wants to wait until the report comes out. Asked about the work McCoy’s brother, Brian, was doing in Voorheesville for the county’s parks department, Conners would not comment. 

“Mr. Conners’ assertions Monday are a continuation of claims he has previously asserted but failed to substantiate because they remain baseless,” Mary Rozak, McCoy’s spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Enterprise.

Conners on Monday said that his attempts to interview “14 or 15” county employees who may be able to shed some light into the allegations are being challenged by McCoy. 

John Liguori, senior assistant county attorney, said in a statement sent to The Enterprise: “Upon being notified of interviews, the Department of Law requested preliminary information concerning the Comptroller’s attorneys’ authority to currently represent the Comptroller’s Office and under what authority/parameters the interviews were to be conducted. The Comptroller’s attorneys refused to respond. Without such information, the Department of Law recommended that the employees not confirm the interviews as scheduled.”

On Tuesday, Conners explained to The Enterprise the kind of information he was looking for with an example: The payroll liaison from Department A verified payroll for an employee in Department D, which is far removed from Department A. 

Conners would want to talk to the head of Department A to find out why the payroll liaison from Department A verified payroll for an employee in Department D.

In the hypothetical example, Conners said that the payroll liaison from Department A recently received a $7,000 to $8,000 raise, and is not so willing to talk anymore.

Conners doesn’t expect McCoy to cooperate and expects the stalling will continue until the report is issued, at which point, he anticipates McCoy’s office will complain it had no opportunity to offer its input. 

In fact, there may be an explanation for why people aren’t punching in and out, Conners said, adding that the important things are: Are there internal controls to make sure there’s an explanation, is there documentation; is the person really performing his or her duty. 

Taxpayers expect that the people being paid to do a job are doing that job, Conners said; his concern is: Does the system, as it is currently administered, adequately provide those protections? 

Among the “areas of concern” identified in the audit were:

— Employees were paid for jobs for which they did not hold the minimum qualifications;

— Employees were paid out of two different department payrolls;

— Employees were paid for more hours than they actually worked;

— Payroll liaisons were not able to verify the hours or location employees attested to working;

— Civil Service was circumvented for special appointments; and

— Licenses and certifications for certain job titles were not observed.

Conners said that he hopes legislation will be introduced to make it impossible to do some of the things that have been alleged in the audit. 

“You shouldn’t be able to verify somebody’s time if you don’t see them or they are not in your department,” he said. “You can’t have this cross-department verification of pay; that’s just bad.”

 

Salerno investigated

In June, Conners told The Enterprise that Anthony Salerno, who had been Altamont’s public safety commissioner, was being investigated by his office. Salerno, according to Conners, was being paid for 35 hours of work each week by both the Office of the Albany County Attorney as well as the Office of the Public Defender.

Salerno resigned as Altamont’s public safety commissioner in 2011 after the state Civil Service Commission forced the resignation, citing the “clear practicability” of his passing the Civil Service exam required for him to hold the post, which he had not done during the six years he had the job.

“We are investigating a number of matters concerning time and attendance issues. Not paying overtime for someone who may actually be working 70 hours per week opens the County to fines and penalties in addition to the overtime,” Conners told The Enterprise at the time. “If the person is not working 70 hours but is submitting payroll documents to receive payment for 70 hours, we will refer that matter to the district attorney.” 

Asked this week for an update into the investigation of Salerno, Conners would say only that Salerno was receiving pay from two different lines in one check, which is a matter of public record. 

Daniel C. Lynch, the county attorney, said in a statement sent to The Enterprise about Salerno: “Regarding Albany County employee Anthony Salerno’s pay and hours. The Comptroller has stated that Mr. Salerno is being paid for two full time positions in Albany County. This statement is incorrect.”

However, Conners never made this assertion to The Enterprise.  

“Mr. Salerno is employed as a part-time Investigator in the Department of Law and is receiving Out of Title (OOT) pay for his work as Chief Criminal Investigator in the Public Defender’s Office,” Lynch went on.

“It may appear that Mr. Salerno is being paid for 70 hours per week, he in fact, is only being paid for 35 hours split proportionately between the two departments. 

“This method allows an employee’s time to be tracked in one timecard to avoid any concerns with overtime. This is standard procedure and Mr. Salerno’s pay and titles are documented in payroll and civil service systems, respectively. 

“The method of payment to Mr. Salerno is not a unique payroll practice for Albany County. Since 2001 it has been used for over 800 county employees.”

 

Conners claims retribution for whistleblower

Conners on Monday was asked why he thought people were afraid to come forward despite the offer of whistleblower protection. He answered that one of the people who did come forward “got waxed for about $9,000 over the period of a year-and-a-half.”

The whistleblower protection, Conners told The Enterprise on Tuesday, was “passed by some brilliant legislator in 1992; I’ve forgotten their name.”

Conners explained to The Enterprise that the whistleblowing employee had worked for the Albany County Recreation Department and was transferred to the Department of Social Services with a $6,000 cut in salary; the employee then went to work for the Albany County Board of Elections, with another $3,000 cut in salary, for a total of $9,000 in lost wages. 

In response to Conners, Rozak said in a statement to The Enterprise: “The person you referred to as the whistleblower is something we cannot confirm as we don’t have firsthand knowledge of that.” 

Rozak went over the job changes in detail, stating the first transfer was voluntary and the second was a resignation, leading to a job that is not under the county executive’s purview, the board of elections.

“Once again,” Rozak concluded, “the job transfer took place roughly a year before the individual reportedly made any allegations to the Comptroller and then that individual resigned to take that Board of Elections position. 

“The individual was hired by the County Comptroller ... The individual’s qualifications to hold the position are unknown because the Comptroller has bypassed civil service procedure and the affirmative action process in that hiring.”

Asked if he had hired the individual, Conners would not comment. 

In response to Rozak, he said that McCoy has a well-known policy of enforcing a “naughty and nice list” for those individuals who have worked for him, particularly if they’ve worked on his campaigns. 

Conners said that he looks forward to the county executive cooperating with the audit. “Hopefully, they’ll allow us to interview the employees we have questions about and have been invited to participate in the audit,” he said.

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