November 20, 2020– Today, Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson 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 13 million dollars being held up 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.
MayorShawyn Patterson-Howard, City Council member 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 elected 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, slowed city efforts to assist residents facing eviction and utility disconnection, prevented street repaving and hampered the City from purchasing life-saving firetrucks, ambulances, a police mobile command center, body cameras and making improvements to support its fiscal recovery efforts.
Mary Kingsley and Rey Hollingsworth, both realtors in Mount Vernon said that over the next 12 months more than 143 million dollars in home sales can be lost for Comptroller Reynolds failure to process property transfer taxes. This will amount to 1.43 million dollars lost in revenue to the City of Mount Vernon. Out of 50 title companies in the state we are down to only 2 who will do business with residents and realtors. CEO Amy Gelles of The Guidance Center of Westchester stated that her organization had to absorb over 250,000 dollars in rent payments for some of the cities most vulnerable residents due to the failure of Comptroller Reynolds to transfer federal funds to the Urban Renewal Agency(URA).
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.
● Failure to process over 2.5 million dollars in unpaid invoices from vendors in Public Works going back to late 2017.
● 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.
● 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 35 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 2.7 million dollars in CHIPS money over an unpaid $370,000 bill from 2018.
● 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.
● 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 43 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 $472k sewer bill in 2019 from the school district and money from PILOTS tax payments ($440,000) 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.”
“As a strong advocate for Mt. Vernon I fight hard to ensure that state funding flows into our City.” says Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow. “It is not only disheartening but reprehensible to know that $2.7 million in paving funds and $400k in public safety funds are being held up by the Comptroller’s failure to work with City officials to pay bills and process paperwork. Cities across the state are seeing 20% reductions in State funding and we are re-capturing unspent grant monies. We cannot afford to lose funding or decrease essential services to Mount Vernon. Our residents deserve better.”
“In the midst of global pandemic, it is crucial that all Mount Vernon elected officials work together, says State Senator Jamaal T. Bailey. “The financial well-being of our city requires transparency and accountability by its leading fiscal officer. I urge Comptroller Reynolds to put any differences aside she may have and work with the Mayor and City Council to help the residents she serves. This is no time to neglect the needs of our city.
In the midst of a pandemic and widespread economic hardship, the Comptroller must put the people in the City of Mount Vernon first and fulfill her fiscal responsibilities immediately. If she is unwilling to do that, it is time for Governor Cuomo to step in and help Mount Vernon restore its finances and build back its integrity. The people of Mount Vernon cannot afford to wait any longer. We are past pretending that this issue does not exist and will go away on its own.” said NYS Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D34 — Bronx/Westchester)
Congressman-elect Jamaal Bowman said “At a time when Mount Vernon needs the support of their government more than ever, elected officials have a responsibility to step up and do our jobs in an exemplary manner. The people of Mount Vernon need relief now. I strongly urge the Comptroller to do what’s right for the people of Mount Vernon.”
“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 to suffer.”
“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’s 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 Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to intervene.
Watch the full press conference here: http://https://youtu.be/5QRX4VzMDX8