Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle said the auditor was playing politics by issuing a press release about the audit. And Robert Rice, Syracuse city manager for the past 18 months, defended the city's actions under former Finance Director Amber Fowles, who resigned in April 2011 to spend more time with her growing family.
"We'll do it the way the state suggested," Rice said, "but we also believe there was no money misspent."
For a number of years, wages and benefits for city street crews were paid from road funds not designated for that purpose, Rice said. In March, the City Council ended that practice, he added, reimbursing the fund for $315,000 and moving those expenses to the general fund.
Stephen Marshall, a certified public accountant who worked in the state auditor's office for almost eight years, hired on as Syracuse's finance director in May 2011.
"For the most part we have great internal controls," Marshall said, "but there are a few things we can fix."
City staff differed in their definition of a road project, Marshall said, resulting in the separate invoicing that occurred under Fowles. And some errors were due to simple misunderstandings, he added. For example, three parking lot repairs totaling $806 involved asphalt but not streets, so those should not have been paid from road construction and maintenance funds.
Marshall disagreed with the disallowed expense for "road and parking lot paint," saying that work occurred only on city streets but was worded incorrectly on the invoices. The same thing applies to the $293 for red fire-hydrant paint, Marshall added. It wasn't used to paint fire hydrants, but the curbs in front of them.
Mayor Nagle attributed Tuesday's press release about the audit to the Republican primary race heating up between challenger John Dougall, who serves in the state House of Representatives, and incumbent Auditor Austin Johnson.
"We corrected the issues and it happened years ago" under former city officials and staffers, Nagle said.
Nagle, a Democrat, had one recommendation for Auditor Johnson: "Campaign on your merits. Don't try to create fire where there is none."
Joe Christensen, state deputy auditor for the past 15 years, said that anything could be viewed as part of the campaign at this stage of the game.
"We don't always issue press releases," Christensen said, "but the Legislature said we haven't been doing enough to get our reports the attention they deserve."
Regarding Syracuse, Christensen credited the city with taking steps to "clear things up."
"That's what should be emphasized," Christensen said.
Syracuse purchasing policy
Projects over $25,000 • Sealed bids required, initiated by newspaper invitation.
Projects over $10,000 and up to $25,000 • Formal written bids required.
Projects over $5,000 and up to $10,000 • Informal bids from at least three contractors.
Source • State Auditor's report 12-CIT-M