Hold Local Boards With Lax Oversight Responsible At The Ballot Box For Employees’ Theft
Another week, another audit alleging theft of money from a local government.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced charges Thursday against Ann Gilbert, former Sherman village treasurer, for allegedly embezzling village money to pay for her personal utility bills and purchases from QVC, Dollar General, Walmart, Amazon and Pampered Chef. DiNapoli said Gilbert stopped recording cash village tax payments and, instead, pocketed the money. The theft was finally noticed by Sherman Mayor Colleen Meeder, who reported them to the state comptroller and the district attorney to begin an investigation.
Gilbert was the village treasurer from June 2007 until August 2016. She allegedly took more than $20,000 in cash paid by village residents for sewer bills, water bills and tax bills.
What’s particularly interesting about the Sherman situation is Gilbert’s term ended shortly before a vote to dissolve the village into the town. In that vote, 232 of 472 registered voters turned out to vote, and in a 117-115 vote village residents turned down dissolving the village of Sherman. Among the arguments in favor of keeping the village–strong finances and its efficiency.
It turns out, had the village been a little less efficient, Gilbert’s theft from taxpayers might have been caught sooner. And, had Gilbert’s theft been caught sooner, maybe the results of the 2016 dissolution vote would have been different.
DiNapoli recently told The Post-Journal that the best thing to do is for town and village boards to make sure they are properly auditing their payments and receipts on a regular basis. The comptroller is right, of course. He also noted the Comptroller’s Office participates in training modules available for board members through the New York Conference of Mayors, New York State Association of Counties and New York State School Boards Association. It should go without saying each and every elected board member — whether newly elected or not — should attend this training and use the processes the Comptroller’s Office recommends.
There has been altogether too much theft from town and village residents here. If board members aren’t willing to put in the work to make sure public money is safe, voters should hold those board members accountable.