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State audit: Former Alexandria supervisor wrote checks to herself without approval

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — A recent state audit has found that former Alexandria town Supervisor Martha M. Millet wrote several checks to herself without the Town Council’s knowledge — an accusation Ms. Millet denied Friday.

The audit also reported that 4,500 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel from the town Highway Department, valued at about $14,600, went unaccounted for during a seven-month period in 2011.

After examining town records from Jan. 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012, auditors with the state comptroller’s office found that Ms. Millet “improperly” made 19 payments totaling $19,919 — including 10 payments totaling $1,819 that she made to herself for “reimbursement of expenses” — without the authorization or review by the town board, according to the audit, a copy of which was obtained by the Times.

Ms. Millet said Friday that payment records were always made available for the council’s review at every town board meeting and that every expenditure had been approved by the board.

“I didn’t do anything that wasn’t authorized by the board,” she said.

The auditors’ report states: “With limited exceptions, the supervisor may not pay any claims unless it has been audited and approved by the board. The payment of claims without board audit or adequate supporting documentation increases the risk that the town moneys could be expended for inappropriate purposes.”

Auditors additionally found that 20 payments totaling $5,369 to Ms. Millet and three claims totaling $9,350 for “publicity” lacked adequate documentation. One particular payment of $1,300 for publicity was not even on file, according to the audit report.

“I can’t be held accountable for missing records. I haven’t been there for a year and a half,” Ms. Millet said, adding that she has not been consulted during the audit nor had she been given a copy of the audit report, making it hard for her to comment on the specifics.

Ms. Millet lost re-election in November 2011 to longtime Town Councilman Dale D. Hunneyman.

Mr. Hunneyman said Friday that Ms. Millet “misused the funds” but that there is no proof of theft. He said the town plans to further investigate the matter.

In 2012, the town started requiring a second signature, from the town clerk, on checks so the town supervisor cannot pay claims without the town board’s review. Mr. Hunneyman said this was for both his protection and the town’s.

State auditors also found that the consumption of 4,500 gallons of the fuel is missing from town records from June 2011 through December 2011, meaning no one knows who used the fuel.

“The highway superintendent did not ensure the town’s fuel supplies were adequately safeguarded and accounted for,” the audit said. “The incomplete fuel use logs, absence of perpetual inventory records and lack of inventory reconciliations places the town at risk of the unauthorized use or theft of the town’s fuel.”

Mr. Hunneyman said this is another case the town hopes to resolve.

Since October, Alexandria has been using a computerized fuel dispensing system that accounts for all gas purchases and use at the fuel station, intended for use by town vehicles.

This is not the first time auditors revealed misuse of fuel at the town Highway Department.

Independent auditors hired by the town in 2008 had found that Ms. Millet’s predecessor, former Supervisor F. Sampie Sutton, took 6,700 gallons of fuel from the town’s fuel supply over four years, but never reimbursed the town.

Mr. Sutton at that time denied stealing gas from the town and blamed Highway Superintendent David H. Bain for telling the town board “that it would save the town money if I used the town’s fuel” instead of having Mr. Sutton claim mileage reimbursements.

Additionally, the state audit report suggests that the town of Alexandria has been violating state law against donating tax money to private entities.

Auditors said the town made payments totaling $60,000 to the Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce and $6,087 to the chamber’s vendors without entering into written contracts stipulating what services or benefits the town was to receive for the payments.

“In addition, the chamber occupies a town-owned building; however, the town does not charge the chamber any rent,” the report said.

Because the town is not receiving “fair and adequate” compensation, these transactions “could be considered unconstitutional gifts of public funds,” auditors said.

Mr. Hunneyman said the town will enter into appropriate contracts and lease agreements with the Chamber of Commerce as the auditors have suggested, but stressed that the town government has been helping the chamber to benefit the community at large.

He said the town has been using part of its bed tax revenue to help the chamber advertise and promote tourism in the area, and thus improve the local economy in the long run.

The town in 1998 adopted a resolution to allow the chamber’s use of the Market Street building after determining that “it was in the overall public interest for the Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce to maintain an office that would be visible and accessible to the public,” Mr. Hunneyman told state auditors in a letter written in response to the report.

Last, auditors said that the town’s hiring of town attorney Joseph W. Russell’s law firm — Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece, Syracuse — to provide legal services “outside the scope of those performed by the town attorney” poses a possible conflict of interest.

“The board should ensure that the town does not enter into any contract in which a town officer or employee has a prohibited interest,” state auditors said.

Even if a contract with the town attorney’s firm is found not to violate the state’s General Municipal Law, they said, the town should “consider the possible appearance of impropriety and the possible consequences of judicial review of such a contract.”

Instead of keeping Mr. Russell as a salaried employee, Supervisor Hunneyman said, the town government will enter into a new contract with his law firm for legal services.

Overall, Mr. Hunneyman said, the state audit has been a learning experience for the town.

“They were great people to work with and showed us how to do things better,” he said.

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