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ABOUT TOWN: Amid Concerns from Selectmen, Town Accountant Plans to Audit Stoughton Schools

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TOWN ACCOUNTANT PLANS TO AUDIT SCHOOLS: On December 14, Stoughton Town Accountant Bill Rowe informed the school department, through an email to Stoughton Public Schools Finance Director Jessica Denison, that he would like to perform an audit of the school's payroll operation on Wednesday or Thursday this coming week.

He said the request came as a result of "an unfortunate action on the part of selectmen," but that their "concerns are understandable given the continued refusal by the School Department to provide our office with certain employment contracts."

He told Denison that Susan Herman, Internal Auditor for the town, and he would perform the audit, adding, "I will provide you a list on Monday of the preliminary information that we will need. Please let me know which day works best for you."  

Rowe said that on December 13, Selectman Bob O'Regan asked him for an assertion that he had all the documentation to back up the numbers on the December 12/13 payroll warrant item on the Selectmen's agenda.

In the letter, Rowe writes, "Unfortunately, since I was unable to provide him with that assertion, he refused to sign the warrant. Selectmen John Stagnone and John Anzivino had similar concerns. They did sign the warrant, but expressed reservations about future warrants. Selectmen Steve Anastos will not sign any warrants."  

Rowe said that if the audit results are favorable, "it may help to mitigate some of the Selectmen's concerns about signing the warrants."  

School Committee Chair Deb Sovinee says she has no reservations about a payroll audit. She tells me on Saturday, December 15, "It should be a normal procedure. It's a simple audit. It's a good practice that I assume is policy for all areas of town government."

But, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi didn't seem to agree. She wrote About Town, "This development is very sad and frustrating. Our attorneys will meet them at the door and be handling this matter. There are so many ways we could be working together for the good of the town."

School Committee member Dr. Erdem Ural, who made About Town aware of the situation, wrote that he finds the disagreement between the school committee chair and the superintendent revealing.

“Unless Rizzi is planning to go out and hire her own attorneys, she must be talking about the school committee attorneys. I am hoping the committee will no longer give the superintendent free and unlimited access to lawyers at the expense of Stoughton," Dr. Ural said.

"My experience with the administration tells me that the internal checks and balances of the School Department are compromised," he continued. "Selectmen, School committee, Town accountant, and treasurer are responsible for any misdeeds that may have occurred. Therefore, I applaud the Town Accountant’s initiative to perform an audit. No matter what the audit results are, I am hoping this humiliating experience will awaken the superintendent and my esteemed colleagues on the school committee.”

Selectman John Anzivino wrote, "Mr. Rowe has my full support in obtaining the documentation necessary for his office to sign off on ANY warrant being submitted to the Board of Selectmen for signatures. Mr. Rowe made me aware of the payroll issue Thursday evening. I restated my opinion his signature on a warrant indicates to me his office has all supporting documentation for that warrant."

Selectman Chairman John Stagnone writes, "The Town Accountant and Internal Auditor responsibilities are to verify that the taxpayer's money is being spent and reported as approved by town meeting and in accordance with all State and Federal Laws. For the Town Accountant  and Internal Auditor to do their jobs they need to have a copy of all contracts, municipal and schools, they do not have all contracts from the school department."

Stagnone continued, "Hopefully copies are forth coming, because without them this issue does not go away no matter the out come of the audit. Once contracts are on file with the Town Accountant as required by law and the new payroll system is in place after the first of the year, audits can take place as part of routine review along with other accounts of the town, without the need to make an appointment. The Board of Selectmen have to sign off on all payments and we take this responsibility seriously. We rely on Town staff that each payment is made in accordance with all applicable laws."

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DarkKnight December 16, 2012 at 01:27 PM
When does Dr. Rizzi go. Why not provide the requested info?
kevin December 16, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I can't understand the schools' hesitation. They are not a separate entity from the rest of the town. They receive funding from the town, they should have no qualms about being audited.
lowertaxes December 16, 2012 at 03:16 PM
If the school has nothing to hide then why won't Dr. Rizzi agree to this. I think that she forgets that she works for the people of this town. She has been nothing but nasty to the town government since she has been in charge of the schools. I for one want to see this audit to see what she is hiding. Not to mention as a taxpayer in this town I don't want my tax dollars going to pay these lawyers that she threatening. Just provide the town what they ask and get it done.
Fiscal Conservative December 16, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Another example of the feud going on between the two ends of Pearl Street. Is it ever going to end? The taxpayer should be leery of both ends of the street and how tax dollars are spent (or wasted). Could it be politics, as usual, to see who has the most power on the street? Power should really belong to the taxpayer, don't they work for you instead of the other way? Time for the taxpayer to become active and demand accountability from ALL in your govt. Attend meetings, ask questions, make those in power sweat a bit. I, for one, no longer sit off to the side. I'm vocal. I write letters to local papers, speak freely (they don't like it). I have become an activist. Govt, at all levels, wants more and more from my pockets. They won't get an extra cent from me, at any level, until my questions are answered. Hopefully, more people will join in to fight waste. Don't just believe a politician when they say they need money for programs. No question in my mind that, at least 10%, could be cut from every budget w/o hurting anyone. We just don't demand the accountability from them, so they do as they please, at our expense. Shame on us for trusting them. An audit should be conducted by an outside company, not either end of Pearl Street. Both sides could come up with the results that they want, not always the actual result. Results can always be slantly.
DJ December 17, 2012 at 04:16 PM
If you were as close as you say, you'd see how hard these people work at representing all. Most are volunteers I'll remind you and work their butts off to stay within budgets and within contracts. What this all boils down to is the hundred and sixty eight Town Reps who vote on every spec of the budget and borrowing articles. Many don't know what the heck they are voting on or don't show up to vote. Those that do are faced with a daunting task of review and research and many rely simply on what ever sponsor or speaker chimes in. Course it's usually the same faces who are given the floor and lets not forget how many times discussion is shut down by vote. Those in the know are at the mercy of those who are not and the Town hinges on this. We need to take this responsibility much more seriously. When you vote for Town Precinct Rep, realize you are voting in the person who has the final say on our annual budget. I also feel that any candidate running for any office who is also a Town Employee should have an aster next to their name on the ballot. Doesn't mean I oppose them, but there should be full disclosure when there is a possibility of conflict because the law only requires they recuse themselves from a vote if there is a perceived conflict and that is not acknowledged in a public way at the time of the vote.
Bob Mahoney December 17, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Dr Rizzi's reaction is especially puzzling in light of the recent news that her office was unable to provide necessary budget information to the State and the recent rejection of the SOI by the School Building Authority. You would think she might be more interested in the Public Relations aspect of her refusal to cooperate with the Town. It is truly incredible that rather than automatically comply with a request from the Town Accountant, who is only doing what is required by law, she intends to "have the attorneys handle" this.
Jeffrey Pickette (Editor) December 18, 2012 at 07:10 PM
An update on this story is posted here: http://stoughton.patch.com/articles/stoughton-school-department-will-comply-with-town-accountant-s-audit-request

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