Johnstown

City of Johnstown Internal Control Officer resigns; Trend of city leaders quitting continues

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City of Johnstown Internal Control Officer Darryl Purinton has resigned his $84,050 position effective March 30.

Mayor Vern Jackson, responding to questions via text message Friday, said Purinton had submitted a letter indicating he was “retiring from public service” sometime last week. Jackson said the letter exists only in paper form and city hall was closed Friday due to the Good Friday holiday.

Purinton’s departure comes amid a mass exodus of leadership positions at the city with Jackson, City Treasurer Mike Gifford, Councilman-at-large Craig Talerico and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Kathi Iannotti all having declared they will not seek reelection in November. The city’s veteran deputy treasurer Victoria Nellis also resigned in January, although city officials have said she continues to work part-time assisting that office.

The Daily Gazette Friday requested contact information for Purinton, but Jackson would not provide his phone number. He said he contacted Purinton himself to relay the Daily Gazette’s request for an interview.

Purinton, a certified public accountant, was hired by the city in 2019 for a salary of approximately $80,000 to provide assistance to City Treasurer Mike Gifford and to evaluate the city’s internal procedures and policies and provide “risk alerts” to identify areas where the city needed to improve performance. His salary increased to $82,000 for 2020 and then to $84,050 for 2021.

Many, if not all, of Purinton’s risk alerts appear to have not been heeded by city officials.

Third Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught has raised the alarm at multiple Common Council meetings about the city’s failure to respond to Purinton’s risk alerts.

“We have 24 high risk alerts, which have not been addressed, and they’re still pending,” Praught said at the Feb. 16 Common Council meeting. “I think the council deserves answers. Who is responsible for writing policies and procedures? Why [aren’t] these addressed?”

Praught will be the Republican candidate for Johnstown Mayor during the election in November, where she will face Democratic Party candidate Michael Rose.

Purinton’s resignation comes on the heels of two scathing reports published by the New York State Comptroller’s Office on March 26. The Comptroller’s office said an audit of the city of Johnstown’s operations showed the city’s internal Information Technology policies and procedures were inadequate, opening up the possibility of cybersecurity breaches, lawsuits and other problems and that city elected officials appear to have little understanding of how the city spends money on IT, having no written contract with the IT company the city has been paying for ten years.

The Comptroller also called city Treasurer Gifford to task for not maintaining accurate accounting records and failing to file annual accounting reports to the state for 2018 and 2019.

“Without accurate financial records, the common council did not have accurate financial information to monitor the city’s financial condition, and does not know the city’s current financial condition,” reads the Comptroller’s report.

In July of 2020, Gifford sent an email to Purinton and the Common Council offering explanations as to why he hadn’t certified or filed complete New York State Annual Financial Report Update Documents for 2018 and 2019. Gifford said he’s explained the need for better financial reporting to the city’s department heads, but they haven’t been doing it.

“Unfortunately my communication is generally met with resistance and even instances of compliance refusals,” Gifford wrote. “This leads me to conclude I am not being provided accurate and reliable financial data. Additionally, I have considered recalling audited financial statements issued for the years prior to the year ended December 31, 2018.”

Gifford has said the financial data from the fire department ambulance service is one part of why he won’t sign off on AUDs for the city’s 2018 and 2019 season. He said another reason has been he has not had oversight over the bank accounts controlled by the city’s independently elected Water Board. Gifford took control of those accounts using the city’s “investment Policy” as the justification in September. The policy mandates all city revenues must go through the city treasurer’s office. The independently elected Water Board survived the Common Council’s second attempt to abolish it via a voter referendum in November, and now the Water Board has filed a lawsuit against the city, Jackson and Gifford to regain control over the bank accounts.

Calls were placed to all five members of the city Common Council Friday seeking comments for this story, but only First Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner responded with comments.

“I was surprised by the resignation, and I think the city needs to still take all of his risk assessments into consideration and take the corrective action moving forward,” Hayner said. “The problem is that he’s been writing all of these risk assessments, and then we would go to him for advice as to how to proceed, because, you know, he was the internal control officer and he wrote the risk assessments. He wrote the policies, and he didn’t have the answer on how to correct it, or we struggled to get answers regarding them.”

Hayner said he doubts the city will hire another control officer.

“I don’t see them replacing him, but that’s a mayoral appointment,” Hayner said. “I know there’s been talk of bringing in an outside agency to do certain things and assess every position, see what the requirements are, get good job descriptions etc, so I don’t see them replacing him, but I do think we will take steps to correct everything.”

Hayner is running for the Republican nomination for city treasurer and will face a GOP primary opponent named Thomas D. Herr during the primary election on June 22. The winner of that contest will face Democratic Party candidate for city treasurer Thomas Suydam, a certified public account, during the November election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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