Broad Street Closure Est. Until Friday at 12PM, Code Enforcement Testimony, & Memo On Broken Payment System

Today was a busy day for Mount Vernon.

This morning started with another wake up call on road safety. The road collapsed on Broad Street between Fleetwood and Gramatan, thankfully no one was seriously hurt. It appears that rain contributed to an undermine of the road at the plate joint adjacent to the 42 West Broad Street Project. All site work was halted and the contractor complied with DPW’s directive to reinforce the street with the appropriate fill including concrete. Once the concrete cures, the street will be opened. Weather permitting, Broad Street is expected to reopen by 12:00 PM Friday, May 24, 2019. To see the update from the scene, click here.

This afternoon I traveled to Newburgh to give testimony before a New York State Senate committee that is studying code enforcement reform.

I shared with the State Senators the steps my administration is taking through our Healthy Homes Initiative’s Mount Vernon Rise effort that will transform how Mount Vernon enforces and monitors city code violations. Earlier this week I was in Cambridge at the Kennedy School of Government’s Ash Center working on our Mount Vernon Rise project, which has already received grants for implementation.

Unfortunately, while I was in Newburgh, I received a troubling memo from Mount Vernon Management Services Commissioner Brett Erasmus, who informed me that Internet service at the Armory has been cut for lack of bill payment by Comptroller Deborah Reynolds. The following memo details how dysfunctional and perverse the Comptroller’s behavior has become.

Although the following narrative is very disconcerting for any Mount Vernon resident, please know that I am doing everything in my power to bring order to the chaos the nonpayment of bills is creating.

The City Council continues to refuse to do anything about the out-of-control Comptroller. Just yesterday at their City Council meeting, they simply expressed vague promises to investigate the Comptroller’s actions. That’s clearly not enough considering what Commissioner Erasmus reports.

TO: Mayor Thomas

FROM: Commissioner Erasmus, Management Services

RE: Comptroller’s office bill payments process

Mr. Mayor, the process for presentation of vendor invoices to the Mount Vernon Comptroller’s office is completely broken. This fact has been communicated to the City Council numerous times in numerous ways and it appears that nobody is doing anything to fix this broken process.

As a result of this, the Verizon Fios services at the Armory were cut off today. This is one of many examples of services that Management Services (“BMS”) covers have been cut off or threatened to be cut off by our vendors owing to non-payment of their invoices. I am concerned about what will get cut off next. Potentially cable services, or email, or even the entire IT network at City Hall which is now in jeopardy too.

The reason this is all happening is because the City’s Comptroller refuses to follow the City’s well-established purchasing policies and use the Purchasing module (i.e. using Purchase Orders) as valid means of acknowledging a debt of the City. As of today, the only way a vendor can get paid is if the physical invoice that is signed by a vendor, along with an approved voucher prepared by a Department (e.g. Management Services, or ‘BMS’), are both presented directly to Madam Comptroller herself by a Commissioner (e.g. myself). This policy seems to apply to every department, although it is hard to know as no written policy has been distributed by the Comptroller’s office explaining the reason for the change versus historical precedent.

What this means is the only way a Management Services bill (e.g. Verizon invoices) gets paid is if I actually get a meeting with Madam Comptroller. For the past two weeks I have been trying to get an appointment with the Comptroller to present invoices but have not been afforded the opportunity. Here is a timeline of events:

  • 5/14 BMS Commissioner went in person to Comptroller’s office but Comptroller was unavailable. BMS Commissioner was attempting to present a batch of unpaid invoices, including for Verizon.
  • 5/14 3:58pm email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “I tried submitting today but Comptroller was unavailable.”
  • 5/15 BMS Commissioner went in person to Comptroller’s office but Comptroller was unavailable.
  • 5/15 2:12pm email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “Per instruction I came down to Comptroller’s office between the 12–2pm window twice today. Once at 1pm today and was told to come back in one hour. Again at 2pm today and was told Comptroller was not available to see me.” No meeting was set up in response to this email and no explanation was offered as to how to get an appointment or when the Comptroller would be available.
  • 5/15 3:09pm email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “Please let me know the earliest available appointment for submission of vouchers, both new ones and those previously rejected. As you know, Management Services currently has many critical unpaid vendors.” Comptroller’s office did not respond to this in writing (internal mail or email) or via phone or in person at any time and no future meeting time was set.
  • 5/16 3:23pm email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “Request for appointment to submit Management Services vouchers.” Comptroller’s office did not respond in writing (internal mail or email) or via phone or in person with a meeting time.
  • 5/16 3:25pm email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “Resending request for appointment; please find PDF copies of all the Management Services invoices that we unsuccessfully attempted to be submitted today in our shared Sharepoint folder.” The Sharepoint folder contained PDF copies of all invoices that were tried to be presented but which were not owing to unavailability and non-responsiveness of the Comptroller’s office to the meeting requests. Every outstanding invoice is in that folder along with an Excel summary file that explains who the vendor is what the charge pertains to and to which account code it should be booked (recommendation only). We could not possibly give more information and all that needs to be done for each of these invoices is for a check to be produced and mailed to the respective vendors.
  • 5/17 BMS Commissioner went in person to Comptroller’s office but the Comptroller’s entire office was shut down. Lights off and nobody there.
  • 5/20 BMS Commissioner went in person to Comptroller’s office but Comptroller was unavailable.
  • 5/20 10:09am email from BMS Commissioner to Comptroller’s office: “I emailed your office at least twice last week for an appointment date to present more invoices and have received no response. I personally was sent away from the Finance office at least three times last week. I asked for a manual policy that we could distribute at city hall and you said to me that there is nothing written I make the policy and it is whatever I say it is on a day to day basis(!). I don’t know how city hall is expected to function under this kind of uncertainty. When is the next available appointment for submission of BMS invoices? This is my third request.” Comptroller’s office did not respond to this by sending a written purchasing policy or by granting me a meeting to present invoices.
  • 5/21 BMS Commissioner went in person to Comptroller’s office but Comptroller was unavailable.
  • 5/22 Comptroller calls Management Services employees to do work on hardware in the Comptroller’s offices. Comptroller sees knows the Management Services staff are in her office but still does not afford us the opportunity to present invoices. To reiterate, Management Services were physically in the Comptroller’s office doing work, and no meeting to accept bills was afforded or even mentioned.
  • 5/23 Verizon shuts off services for non-payment of bills.

To be clear, this is just what transpired over the last two weeks. This type of obstructionism has been going on for almost a year and it appears to be getting worse. Aside from Verizon, Management Services has a batch of other vendor bills that have never been presented to the Comptroller. We have had only two opportunities this year to successfully present invoices. At both those times many invoices were rejected by the Comptroller and needed (or still need) to be resubmitted. The previously rejected bills along with all the new bills that have been pulled together have been in my possession whilst I wait for the Comptroller office to grant me an opportunity to present them. There is nobody else in Management Services that is allowed to present these. And there is nobody in the Comptroller’s office that is allowed to receive these, aside from the Comptroller herself in person. As I write this memo I am sitting at my desk staring at a large folder of unpaid bills with no way of getting them accepted by the Comptroller’s office.

Despite the impediments and unnecessary roadblocks created by the Comptroller, for the purposes of ensuring that everything is tracked accurately, Management Services has created a folder on the network in Sharepoint and has saved down all of these outstanding invoices at the location. Only Management Services and the Comptroller can view these invoices. The Verizon invoices are in there along with every other invoice that remains unpaid.

I would be happy to meet with any vendor myself and explain how the process is broken, show them the batch of invoices on my desk and accompany them to the Comptroller’s office so that they can personally witness me trying to submit their invoices.

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Mayor Richard Thomas

Mayor Richard Thomas

At 33, Richard Thomas is the youngest Mayor in Mount Vernon history! (2016–2019) Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MayorRichardThomas