Protecting Public Safety And Taxpayer Dollars
BY LEGISLATOR TONY EARL (D-Spring Valley. Majority Leader)
We are all aware, now more than ever, of the incredible responsibility elected officials have to safeguard taxpayer money. Sadly, in Rockland County government, there are those who believe that they can disregard the fundamental principle of transparency when handling the public funds they have been entrusted with. We all know better – and the public must always know when such unprecedented actions take place.
Several weeks ago, a secretary in the Sheriff’s Department attempted to make a routine purchase, but was alerted to the fact that the account set aside to make such purchases was inexplicably emptied out. After an inquiry was made, it became clear that on February 9, $424,300 was removed from numerous key accounts in the Sheriff’s Department.
At the March 1 meeting of the County Legislature, the full story of what happened emerged. It turned out that only two people in County government were involved – County Executive Ed Day, and a staffer in the Finance Department, who moved the funds without the knowledge of Sheriff Falco or even the Commissioner of Finance, Steve DeGroat. DeGroat offered his apologies to the Legislature, telling us at that meeting, “I didn’t agree with that approach, especially without [Falco’s] knowledge.”
The funds that were moved were budgeted to fund key operations of the Sheriff’s Department, including extraditing criminals back to jail. Funds used to maintain the law library – a Constitutionally required service – were also moved. The transfers also impacted the investigative unit, the operations of the entire County Jail, and the computer crimes unit, which identifies and apprehends child predators.
County Executive Ed Day never explained these transfers. Ultimately, the issue was discovered and discussed at a public meeting of the County Legislature, and after Chairman Wolfe suggested that the transfers be reversed, the Administration moved the money back to its proper place.
The incident highlights the importance of transparency and accountability, particularly when dealing with taxpayer dollars and issues as critical as public safety. The Legislature will never support government action that takes place in private; in fact, we welcome the involvement of the engaged public in Rockland County. In an era of so many rightfully concerned residents, all the business of government ought to take place in the sunlight.
Editor’s note – The County Executive’s Office responded to this column, stating that the incident referenced was the product of a miscommunication and the matter had been promptly resolved.