MOUNT VERNON, NY — November 21, 2020 – Yesterday, Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard and the City Council held a joint press conference to discuss Comptroller Deborah Reynolds and how her lack of transparency, accountability and professionalism has left the City in dire financial straits. With a looming COVID-19 second wave compounding other critical financial needs, the City faces a crucial crossroads–the release of more than $12 million dollars being held by the Comptroller or drastic austerity measures including a possible 25% cut across all agencies or a ten percent tax increase on already burdened local taxpayers.
Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, City Councilmember Derrick Thompson, City Councilmember Marcus Griffith, and other local stakeholders detailed the Comptroller’s impact on Mount Vernon residents, their demands for transparency and cooperation, and plans for holding Comptroller Reynolds accountable. An assembly of election officials, community leaders and civil servants provided harrowing accounts of the Comptroller’s malfeasance, which has robbed vulnerable frontline workers of hard-earned overtime pay, cheated cash-strapped small businesses of their receivables and hampered the City from purchasing life-saving firetrucks and making improvements to support its recovery efforts.
For more than two years, City Comptroller Deborah Reynolds has operated above the purview of the City of Mount Vernon with impunity. She began her abuse of power by sealing off the financial and purchasing system (MUNIS) from the executive branch with an illegal firewall in her office, essentially operating as a rogue agency within City Hall administration.
Here are some of her most egregious actions:
● Failure to accept tax payments from residents for months. It takes months for these payments to be accepted and processed.
● Refused to allow external auditors access to perform testing needed to complete the City’s 2016 audit, which will play a critical role in re-establishing our bond rating.
● Failed to provide financial reports to city officials for 30 months.
● Failed to process transfer taxes, which caused NYS title companies to send a letter threatening to stop doing business in Mount Vernon. This unprecedented action endangers local homeowners, buyers and realtors.
● Failed to follow legislation passed by City Council and Board of Contract & Estimate.
● Failure to disperse HUD/URA money in a timely manner.
● Failed to pay reimbursements for paving, holding up $2.3 million dollars in CHIPS money over an unpaid $370,000 bill.
● Failed to sign off the voucher for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services GIVE grant for $220,000. We are currently awaiting reimbursement for $183,000 that we are set to lose because she won’t process.
● Failed to process school taxes, causing the school district to take over the collection of school taxes and costing the City of Mount Vernon 600k+ in revenue.
● Failure to pay public safety personnel. Blocked the hiring of eleven firefighters in Oct/Nov 2019 because a family friend was not selected for the force. We now have eighteen vacancies and are dangerously below national fire standards.
● Failure to follow civil service law. She has refused to produce certified payroll and has been given 33 payroll exception notices that she has ignored. Additionally, she has refused to follow step increases for our civil services employees, many of whom are on the frontlines during the COVID- 19 pandemic, for the last two years.
● Failure to comply with federal contract requirements related to 666 funds, which is a requirement of the US Department of Justice. She has refused to release these 666 funds desperately needed for the purchase of patrol vehicles, surveillance equipment and body cameras. In an age of police reform, these are critical tools needed to improve public safety.
● Failure to process payments and reimbursements has caused our Veterans Service Agency to lose its accreditation. Our nation’s heroes deserve so much more than to be insulted by the inaction of our Comptroller.
● Failure to accept funds owed and paid to the city. Turning away hundreds of thousands of dollars from revenue generating departments, including parking tickets, a $300,000 sewer bill in 2019 from the school district and money from PILOTS tax payments ($183,000) and various departmental revenues.
“Through her negligence and lack of transparency, Comptroller Reynolds has hampered the progress of Mount Vernon and exposed our residents to tremendous risk, says Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard. “With the very real threat of an impending COVID-19 second wave, we can’t afford another moment of her political machinations. We’re calling on the Comptroller to do her job and release the funds for the City to protect the people of Mount Vernon from the global pandemic.”
“In the midst of global pandemic, Comptroller Reynolds is playing politics with people’s lives, says State Senator Jamaal Bailey. “Mount Vernon needs all of its elected officials to work together so that we can reduce the spread COVID-19 in our communities. It’s time for her to work with our Mayor and City Council and not against the residents she was elected to serve. The future of our City depends on it.”
“Like the Mayor, the City Council has had difficulty getting financial information from the Comptroller to move the City forward, says City Council President pro tem Marcus A. Griffith. “This is a critical issue. We passed legislation to compel Comptroller Reynolds to release financial data, so far she has not complied. Her disdain for the law is hurting the people of Mount Vernon and making it nearly impossible to both handle our current challenges and plan for the City’s future.”
“As elected officials, we agree to do the best we can for the city we serve, says Councilman Derrick Thompson. Her negligence is an affront to every single Mount Vernon resident. Our City needs and deserves real transparency and accountability from the Comptroller. This crisis of leadership must be resolved or Mount Vernon residents will continue tosuffer.”
“Our City is hurting due to the inaction of Comptroller Reynolds. Last night we almost lost our 911 system, which would’ve removed the ability for anyone to call for an emergency. All because the Comptroller hasn’t paid a maintenance bill, says Police Commissioner Glenn Scott. “This, along with over $850,000 in bills have remained unpaid. Public Safety is a critical need for Mount Vernon and Comptroller Reynolds is putting lives in danger by her refusal to do her job.”
“We almost lost an entire city block to a fire because the Comptroller refused to transfer money for a new aerial ladder truck, says Fire Commissioner Deborah Norman. “Thankfully, our neighbors in NYC allowed us to borrow a truck the day before and it helped save lives and property. Our department has been hampered by COVID-19 and as first responders, the Comptroller’s inaction is putting the lives of our firefighters at risk.”
“The Law Department has tried to work with the Comptroller’s office, but her refusal to cooperate with us has injured the city financially, says Brian Johnson, Mount Vernon Corporation Counsel. “The circular nature of her department, in which emails, letters, invoices are not processed timely is causing a serious financial burden. Furthermore, we have been unable to reconcile 2.4 million dollars in legal bills that appear to be on the city’s books.
Mount Vernon is fighting back against her unacceptable behavior and will soon have its day in court. The City is confident that the people will prevail. In the event that Comptroller Reynolds once again refuses to comply, we City officials will call on New York State Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to intervene.