Montville WPCA auditing expenses

Montville — Town officials say an outside accounting firm this week began an audit of Water Pollution Control Authority expenses, potentially reigniting arguments between town officials and a former WPCA leader who resigned more than nine months ago.

According to a news release issued Monday, Town Councilor Jeff Rogers, elected chairman of the WPCA in February, asked wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Derek Albertson to look into the WPCA's spending and produce "a detailed list of specific expenses" between Nov. 1, 2017, and Nov. 1, 2018.

Former WPCA Administrator Brian Lynch and wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Michael Didato — who resigned and took jobs in Putnam last summer — were in charge during the bulk of the period Rogers wants examined. Based on information obtained during Albertson's initial review, Rogers contacted accounting firm PKF O'Connor Davies to conduct an audit into WPCA expenses, according to the news release.

Rogers in interviews this week declined to detail the nature of financial information obtained in Albertson's initial review, other than to say it was "questionable." He also said an audit was a sound practice following a change in the chain of command, arguing it was "in the interest of transparency and making sure everything is done the way it's supposed to be."

While the annual town audit includes WPCA finances, an in-depth audit of WPCA expenses had not been performed since Albertson took the helm in October 2018, according to Rogers.

PKF O'Connor Davies began its examination Monday, according to multiple officials. The next day, the WPCA held a special meeting and, after an hourlong executive session to discuss a personnel matter, unanimously approved a transfer of up to $50,000 from the WPCA fund balance to the WPCA's line item for audits and accounting.

Rogers said he did not yet have an estimate for the cost of the audit, and on Wednesday he described it as a "cursory review" of expenses and "if it evolves into a full-blown audit," the WPCA could seek an accountant through a bidding process.

Mayor Ron McDaniel argued it was unusual for an audit to begin a day before the WPCA approves funding for it; any expenditure greater than $5,000 must be approved by the WPCA, McDaniel said.

The examination of WPCA finances comes more than nine months after Lynch and Didato resigned amid arguments between Lynch and town councilors over purchasing policies and the amount of money WPCA paid the town for financial services, according to several officials and emails obtained by The Day last year.

Lynch had claimed Town Council members sought "to create a threatening, harassing and hostile work environment." Town Council Chairman Tom McNally, a former WPCA assistant superintendent who settled a 2012 wrongful termination lawsuit he filed against the town, disputed Lynch's characterization last year, arguing councilors had pushed for more accountability from the WPCA and more open bids for town projects.

McNally on Thursday said Rogers had recently mentioned "some concerns" about WPCA expenses to councilors. McNally said that he was "staying out of it" other than asking Rogers to let officials know when the audit was complete.

Lynch on Thursday said he was "more than happy to assist and provide anything I can" to help the auditors.

In a letter sent this week to Albertson and PKF O'Connor Davies, Lynch offered to help and said he "would be happy to answer any questions they might have, and to point them to any other individuals who might be able to assist them in this work."

Didato in an interview Thursday noted he was largely uninvolved with WPCA finances and was "more the day-to-day operations and maintenance chief operator. I didn't have any dealings with political ins or outs with anybody."

Multiple town officials said they could not discuss any potential concerns arising from Albertson's initial review of WPCA expenses, in part because they were discussed during an executive session of the Town Council on Monday night. Rogers had requested adding the executive session to the agenda, for the purpose of discussing a personnel matter, according to an audio recording of the meeting minutes.

McDaniel said Thursday that he didn't "think it's ever a bad idea to do an audit, but I don't know what (Rogers) is looking for. I'm not privy to his data."

McDaniel added that he'd received an email from Lynch this week calling on town officials only to discuss personnel matters related to Lynch "in an open forum and recorded."

The Day this week filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the town clerk, Albertson and the mayor's office seeking the "detailed list of specific expenses" referenced in Monday's news release, WPCA monthly expense reports and communications and records between town officials on the matter.

Messages left with Albertson Wednesday and Thursday were not immediately returned. PKF O'Connor Davies did not immediately respond to a message on Thursday. Maureen Benway, an accountant with the WPCA, declined to comment on the audit.

Mahoney Sabol's town audit for the year ending June 30, 2018, disclosed "no instances of noncompliance" that must be reported under Government Auditing Standards, and identified no concerns with the town's internal controls over financial reporting.


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