‘The Right Foot Going Forward’: Audit Committee, Interim CFO Praise Finance Department’s Work

New Canaan for the first time since forming an Audit Committee to ensure proper financial controls are in place is no longer operating with “material weaknesses,” a member of the group said Wednesday morning. The town also has given full access to its elected treasurer and “we don’t have people signing checks that are unauthorized to sign them,” Audit Committee member Ed Kangas said during the group’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “It’s almost incredible to me that we had all those problems. These were big deals. This town should not have had those problems. I am pleased they are resolved and we are off on the right foot going forward.”

The comments came on the first meeting of the committee since New Canaan hired a new interim CFO, whose predecessor retired amid lingering “material weaknesses” in town financial processes and controls that had been identified by auditors. Tom Stadler, administrative officer in the office of the first selectman, said last week was busy at Town Hall with the former CFO’s “departure” and new interim hire Sandra Dennies’s start “and the walkthrough and changeover of the bank and investment accounts, and a number of other things,” adding that officials have put those matters “behind us now” to move on and “walk hand in hand.”

Referring to concerns that had been raised by the town treasurer, Audit Committee Chairman Bill Parrett said: “I understand there has been lots of activity in terms of giving the treasurer access to some of the accounts—maybe they were not the biggest or most important accounts—but they were accounts that he presumably should have been looking at, and that has been done.”

Dennies in brief remarks to the committee offered praise for her colleagues in Town Hall and in the finance department specifically.

As ‘Material Weaknesses’ Persist, First Selectman Puts Tom Stadler in Charge of Town’s Finance Department; Status of CFO Unclear

A trusted and experienced municipal employee already in place will take on new responsibilities to help address lingering and recently disclosed problems with the town’s financial controls, officials said Tuesday morning. Starting immediately, Administrative Officer Tom Stadler will oversee the New Canaan Finance Department as per a decision from the first selectman, Audit Committee Chairman Bill Parrett said during a meeting held at Town Hall. According to a letter from Parrett that he cited during the meeting, Audit Committee members “understand from Rob Mallozzi that he is considering changes to the Finance Department and that effective immediately, the town’s administrative officer and CPA, Tom Stadler, will be given the responsibility of overseeing the Finance Department.”

The statement continued: “Tom has the experience and holds a CPA. He is the ideal source to review the efficiency and effectiveness of [the] town’s finance organization and to make appropriate changes, improvements and modifications to rectify the immediate deficiencies and provide for a long-term solution.”

It isn’t clear what role current Finance Director Dawn Norton would play, if any, in a reconstituted finance department. Reached by NewCanaanite.com, Mallozzi declined to comment on specifics, citing matters of personnel.

‘A Much Better Understanding of the Yin and Yang’: Selectmen Support Audit Committee Appointments

Saying that his relationship with the Audit Committee has improved significantly in the past few months, New Canaan’s highest elected official and the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday supported the reappointment of one committee member and the appointment of one new member. First Selectman Rob Mallozzi called prospective new Audit Committee member John Lanaway’s resume “unbelievable” and noted that his predecessor in the group, Janet Lanaway, “was there for some of the turmoil.”

“I have noticed in my dealings with the Audit Committee in the last three or four months, on my level, a much better understanding of the yin and yang of at least my role and [Town Administrator] Tom [Stadler]’s role and [Finance Director] Dawn [Norton]’s role and others in municipal government, and I have found that it has been a much different attitude—on my part, quite frankly, because I was hesitant about the Audit Committee,” Mallozzi said during a Board of Selectmen meeting, held at Town Hall. “So I can say I am feeling that there has been a change in the attitudes and I think a lot of it had to come from the top, and I take some responsibility for that, as well, and most recently in their help in trying to lay out what we are looking for in an internal auditor or controller, they have been much more user-friendly. I am happy to report that.”

The comments come a few weeks after the Audit Committee voted to recommended that the Town Council accept last fiscal year’s financial statements. Last fall, the Audit Committee temporarily suspended its work, surprising and causing consternation for many in town, pending the adoption of some course-correcting measures that the group had drafted.