The town treasurer’s recent assertions that he lacks full access to all municipal bank accounts while some former public workers have retained login access—even after their employment with New Canaan had ended—are flat-out false, officials said Tuesday morning.
Additionally, Treasurer Andrew Brooks himself does not have the ability to “scrub” the names of former municipal workers from New Canaan’s bank accounts as indicated during a public meeting last month, according to officials with the bank that the town uses.
In fact, according to Barbara Hart, senior vice president of government and institutional banking at Webster Bank, it’s an industry best practice to preserve a record of the names of those who previously had access to municipal bank accounts for seven years.
“We give people online access according to the specifications set forth during the implementation period, so when setting up a new customer like the town of New Canaan, we figure out who has what access,” Hart told members of the Board of Selectmen at their regular meeting, held in Town Hall.
“And we grant passwords and user IDs based on the level of access at the account level, user level –we give very, very finite limits to each user and those limits are captured in our system. We also, when a relationship in severed, keep that user in the system for historical purposes and audit purposes, but we lock that user out. So no further access is allowed, and I wanted to make that clear.”
Selectman Nick Williams, referring to a local news publication that had named Webster Bank without giving officials there a chance to address the treasurer’s comments, asked: “You mean the front-page allegation that employees had access to accounts was a lot of horse poop?”
Hart responded: “Access is not available to former employees.”
The exchange appeared to be designed as a kind of vindication for both the executive leadership of the town and Webster itself, following Brooks’ claims, made during a March 22 Town Council meeting. He reiterated them during a meeting of the Audit Committee last week, at which time officials announced a change in oversight of the New Canaan Finance Department. Mallozzi during a subsequent interview said he decided to put Administrative Officer Tom Stadler in charge there because the department had been unable to address “material weaknesses” in financial controls long ago identified by the Audit Committee—not because of Brooks’ more recent disclosures.
Brooks in a statement issued to NewCanaanite.com after the meeting said: “Many statements made at today’s Board of Selectmen meeting were misrepresentations of the facts and the concerns that were brought to the Audit Committee for its review. The facts will be clearly understood once the Audit Committee completes its work in reviewing the substantial amount of documentation that I have provided to them.”
The treasurer’s concerns first were voiced during an exchange at the March 22 meeting with councilman Cristina A. Ross. She attended the selectmen meeting on Tuesday. The only others in attendance were members of the media, a department head and business official.
There, officials conceded that it’s true that the town finance department failed to obtain the treasurer’s signature on a $364,336 check—violating a policy established by First Selectman Rob Mallozzi that the treasurer give manual sign-off on any check over $250,000. Yet that check had been vetted and signed off on by multiple responsible parties, officials said, and as the chairman of the Audit Committee had corroborated, rightly was approved in the end. Williams described the payment—to the town’s insurer—as the fourth and final installment of a larger, regular payment that could be considered pro forma.
Mallozzi said a payment such as the CIRMA check “passes so many eyes, I can’t tell you.”
“He did not review that one before it went out, which he certainly should have,” Mallozzi said.
Asked how this payment slipped through, he said: “We don’t know. [Finance Director] Dawn [Norton] is, in the end, responsible for that end. But I can assure you that there was a ton of eyes on it. A ton of check-offs. It was a legitimate invoice and I’m very, very disappointed that it happened but I don’t want the conclusion to be that checks leave here at all times without the proper form of due diligence. It’s quite an insult, quite frankly, to the Tom Stadler’s of this world, to the Rob Mallozzi’s, the others, Dawn and our finance department who do their due diligence.”
Hart during the meeting reviewed the 20-year history of Webster’s government banking group as well as the program’s strong presence in Connecticut (130 primary relationships with municipalities here, including 15 of the 20 largest in the state) and fraud protection and controls. Those tools cover protections against check fraud and proper electronic debits and ensuring proper user identities online, Hart said.
“We think protecting our government and all of our customer accounts is paramount and we have several different tools to protect customers’ money,” she said.
Hart confirmed that New Canaan takes advantage of fraud prevention controls that Webster Bank offers. She also confirmed that, the way the New Canaan accounts with Webster were established, Brooks has always had access to all accounts and would be given information he needed over the phone or during in-person visits to the bank.
Mallozzi said it was “important for the reputation of this community” as well as the selectmen and Town Hall staff that Brooks’ comments get context and clarification from the bank.
Selectman Beth Jones said the problems seemed to emerge from “a lack of communication, which causes so much of the trouble.”
“I don’t know if our treasurer didn’t know he could ask for this stuff and get it,” she said. “What I would like to be sure of is that he never asked for information that was denied to him.”
Thus assured, Jones said: “Then I am comfortable that it is a communication problem that is fixable.”
Williams said he was “satisfied that the heavens are not falling.”
“I will chalk this up to, ‘OK, Andrew did not understand what he could do,’ ” Williams said.
[Editor’s Note: Town Treasurer Andrew Brooks’ comments were added to the article after it first was published.]