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Montville Water Pollution Control Authority to implement tougher oversight

Montville — The town’s Water Pollution Control Authority will implement a host of new policies, including tighter spending controls, clearer expense reporting and a code of ethics, in the wake of an auditor’s report that recently identified almost $30,000 in questionable spending between 2014 and 2018.

The WPCA late last week unanimously accepted the recommendations of accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies, which called for improved oversight after reviewing several years of expenses and highlighting a pattern of lackluster documentation, bidding and purchasing policies that went ignored, and reimbursements for clothing and cellphone use without full WPCA approval.

The vote followed a lengthy executive session “for the purpose of discussing potential litigation and strategies regarding the WPCA audit.” The WPCA has held multiple executive sessions related to personnel issues surrounding the audit, which was initially called for by Chairman and Town Councilor Jeff Rogers.

The audit findings prompted a state police investigation earlier this year, according to town officials and state police.

Former WPCA Administrator Brian Lynch, who was in charge during most of the time reviewed by PKF O’Connor Davies, and former wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Michael Didato, resigned and took jobs in Putnam last summer.

Lynch and town councilors had argued over purchasing policies and the amount the WPCA paid the town for financial services, according to officials and emails obtained by The Day last year. Lynch has declined to comment and Didato noted earlier this year that he was uninvolved with WPCA finances. WPCA accountant Maureen Benway also declined to comment.

While the WPCA will hammer out the new policies in coming months, officials remain at odds over how the financial oversight eventually will be administered, and how conversations and news releases on the audit have been handled by Rogers.

At the suggestion of Vice Chairman Tony Siragusa, WPCA members agreed to slash part of the resolution on the auditor’s recommendations, which would have transferred WPCA finances “back to the Town of Montville Finance Department.” Siragusa argued that description was overly broad and that the matter needed greater study.

The auditor’s report had urged the town finance director to supervise cash disbursement, bank reconciliations and bidding.

Siragusa and Commissioner Chuck Longton also took Rogers to task for issuing a news release on WPCA letterhead, which was sent along with a copy of the audit report late Friday, Aug. 23, to several media outlets in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Day. Siragusa argued the chairman should answer all questions from reporters but not issue news releases, while Longton said the release could be construed as a statement from the WPCA. Commissioner Shawn Jinkerson, meanwhile, took no issue with the release and argued the WPCA had been well informed on the matter.

Rogers, who noted he could not previously release the audit report because of a pending state police investigation into alleged inappropriate spending, said he made efforts to be transparent by notifying commissioners of the news release in advance through email and by sharing information with the news media per FOI.

Tensions then flared after Mayor Ron McDaniel noted that Rogers never sent him the audit report. Instead, McDaniel acquired a copy from the town attorney.

“You release it to the press, you release it to everyone but me,” McDaniel said.

Rogers apologized and then proceeded to blast McDaniel, saying that there was “no oversight” at WPCA during McDaniel’s tenure and mentioning the case of Linda Rivera, a former deputy administrator who was convicted of embezzling $51,000 from the WPCA more than a decade ago.

McDaniel told Rogers that was a separate case, and that questions about checks and balances implemented following the embezzlement had been "asked and answered."

"This is not unexpected," McDaniel said Friday, characterizing Rogers' remarks as political. "Other than that, I'm just awaiting the outcome of the criminal investigation. We'll see what happens and the chips will fall where they fall."

The state police investigation into alleged inappropriate spending remains ongoing, Rogers said.

"We have a long road ahead of us and I know emotions are going to run high, but it's a process and we'll get through it. We'll all work together because that's what has to be done," said Rogers, who described himself as a "performance-based person who expects people to do the right thing."


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