Department Under Fire

    Lost in the discussion about whether some East Hampton Town Human Services Department records were improperly shredded as its former director and others prepared to retire were valuable pointers about how town departments should operate. Meaningful recommendations in an outside consultant’s report on the department have been overshadowed by implications of wrongdoing that were made in a separate letter sent to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson after the report was completed.
    It is odd, to say the least, that none of the report’s 26 recommendations mention the destruction of documents. Nor does the so-called “management letter” issued after the fact say who made this troubling accusation.
      The $15,000 analysis was opposed from the start by the town board’s two Democratic members, who worried that it might be used to scapegoat the department’s former director, Edna Steck. Those fears appear to have been well founded. Nawrocki Smith, the firm chosen by the Republican majority to review the department’s activities, told the supervisor, in the separate letter, that it had been in contact with the Suffolk district attorney’s office for guidance and counsel.
    That the report was completed in August but its release delayed until after Labor Day — and after the far more damning letter to Mr. Wilkinson was sent on Sept. 1 —  suggests that the timing may have been intended to coincide with the time when voters begin turning in earnest to local politics. Could this be a baldly political attempt to get headlines in the run-up to the November town board elections? It is likely that this affair was at least in part spun up by Len Bernard, the politically savvy East Hampton Town budget director, who has said that the matter has also been referred to the state comptroller’s office.
    Politics aside, it is somewhat difficult to see how the report (widely misrepresented as an audit) from Nawrocki Smith, a Melville accounting and business consulting firm, will offer much in the way of dividends for taxpayers, though its findings should be heeded. Primarily, it calls for corrections in what was overly casual record-keeping under the Human Services Department’s former staff.
    Among the recommendations are that there should be guidelines for handling grants, that employee time sheets should be better maintained, and that reimbursements for the use of personal vehicles should be reviewed more carefully. The report says the department’s senior citizens transportation procedures should have included income verification, but did not. Nor did Human Resources maintain a daily checklist of vehicle maintenance or properly log donations of toys, books, and food.
    Nawrocki Smith found that the department was not licensed for psychotherapy, and this and several other problems have now been corrected. In all, however, the report paints an unflattering picture of the mom-and-pop way Human Services, and undoubtedly other town offices, were, and probably continue to be, run. There is room for improvement and we expect the Wilkinson administration will continue to make sure it takes place.
    Since the Nawrocki Smith report itself has nothing in it about the destruction of records, however, dark hints about illegal acts seem out of place at this juncture. If documents were improperly destroyed, as the letter to the supervisor suggests, it would be a serious matter, particularly if some of those records dealt with finances. However, this so-far unsubstantiated and anonymous allegation should be viewed, at least for now, for what it is.