MOUNT VERNON, NY — Voters across the United States including Mount Vernon will finish the 2020 general election up Tuesday. Voting in 2020 has been different due to rules that expanded early and mail-in voting in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the presidential and congressional races, there are many key races at the state and local levels. In Mount Vernon, a commission and advisory committee have come up with four revisions to the City Charter, and they are asking voters to approve them.
More than 90 percent of the voters in Mount Vernon voted to revise the City Charter in the 2020 Election, according to the unofficial tally posted on the Westchester County Board of Election.
The Charter for the city of Mount Vernon is an often spoken of and often misunderstood The Charter that was adopted as Chapter 490, Laws of 1922 and became a law April 4, 1922. Mount Vernon is the eighth largest city in New York State, located in Westchester County and is governed by a The Charter as well as State and local laws.
Over the past decade of so, you have heard one elected official or another interpreting the City Charter, sometime in their own favor. Many elected officials talk about the what the charter says, some often misquoting it and accuse other elected officials of violating it. One thing the Thomas Administration did was expose the many flaws in the outdated Charter, that is in desperate need for revision.
To tackle that dilemma, in early 2019 the Charter Revision Commission was formed and Derickson Lawrence, a two-time congressional candidate, a management consultant with KPMG and a director of the global consulting and technology giant – the Gartner Group. with over 30 years of experience in banking, management consulting, technology and executive management, who has also served as a vice-chairman of the Westchester County Charter Revision Commission was appointed Chairman, by then Mayor Richard Thomas.
“Yesterday marked the end of a two-year journey for this Charter Revision Commission and its Advisory Committee. But yesterday’s outcome of a 90% plus margin of victory is a compelling mandate of new possibilities for the future of our beloved City,” Lawrence shares with Black Westchester. “I credit the team and the diversity within its ranks in crafting and following through with a consistent message that resonated with the voters. On behalf of the commission and committee I thank the voters for responding in a resounding fashion. I thank the members of the team who gave two years of their life to a mission that appeared daunting, if not impossible, given its origins; and finding the courage to stay the course through disappointment. This scale of victory is a mandate for action. Fiscal accountability, financial transparency and long-term comprehensive planning are coming to the City of Mount Vernon.”
The Four propositions for amending the Mount Vernon city charter did not make the ballot in the November 2019 general election because filing requirements were not met, the Westchester Board of Elections has determined, but did appear on the ballot in 2020 and were approved by at least 90 percent of voters, they are:
Proposal requiring the City Council to fund and adopt a Comprehensive Plan for the City that will be updated and reviewed at least once every ten years, to be prepared by the Planning Department with input and support from the Planning Board, Zoning Board, and applicable City departments and agencies, and with input from the community, for the development and improvement of the City.
Proposal requiring that an independent annual audit of City government accounts and financial records be performed and completed by a qualified certified public accounting firm following the close of each fiscal year, which shall include separate audits of the accounts of the Urban Renewal Agency, the Industrial Development Agency, and the Board of Water Supply.
Quarterly Financial Reports
Proposal requiring the City Comptroller to issue quarterly financial reports to the Mayor and the City Council concerning the City’s year-to-date and projected fiscal condition, as of March thirty-first, June thirtieth, September thirtieth and December thirty-first of each fiscal year, in relation to the annual budget adopted for that fiscal year and to make such reports available for public review.
Periodic Charter Review
Proposal requiring the establishment of a Charter Commission for the purpose of reviewing the City Charter at least every ten years, funded as may be reasonably necessary for such Commission to conduct its business effectively.
Two of those propositions are aimed directly at the City Comptroller.
Deborah Reynolds has often been accused of being at the center of City Hall dysfunction. Former Mayor Richard Thomas complained publicly about Reynolds’ secrecy, refusal to pay bills, and antics at meetings. SEE: Comptroller Leaves City At a Financial Standstill.
When Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard took office in January, the situation didn’t get better. In February, the mayor revealed that Reynolds at the end of 2019 had installed an illegal firewall and removed financial records from the city servers. No department has access to the city’s finances.
In an audit requested by the mayor, the New York State Comptroller reported in September that Mount Vernon City Council and officials did not have adequate financial information for the effective management of operations and, as a result, the City lost its credit rating.
- The City Comptroller failed to file the required annual financial report (AUD) with our office for fiscal years 2016 through 2019.
- The Council did not take sufficient action to acquire financial information.
- No audited financial statements have been issued since the 2015 fiscal year because City officials have not provided their independent auditors with the necessary financial information.
- City officials did not have financial information available to develop a multiyear or capital plan.
- City officials did not establish policies and procedures to ensure that critical financial information, such as budget-to-actual reports or cash flow reports, is received.
One of their key recommendations was that city officials update and develop policies and procedures to ensure the Council and City officials are provided with accurate and complete financial information.
The state auditors noted that the Comptroller, throughout the audit scope, did not make requests for documentation and/or initiate internal audits in a timely manner in accordance with the City Charter. “Despite the Charter requiring an annual audit be completed and submitted by June 30 of the following year, the only action the Comptroller took during our audit period was requesting the Department of Public Works’ gasoline records dating back to Jan. 1, 2018, on Feb. 27, 2020,” the auditors said.
Comptroller is an elected position in Mount Vernon and Reynolds has two years to go in this term.
“Finally, as a mayoral commission, I thank our current mayor, Shawn Patterson-Howard, for sitting through our meetings and for being engaged in process.” Lawrence added. “I also thank former Mayors André Wallace for supporting the process; and Richard Thomas for initiating it. Now is the time for all our leaders and citizens to work together to implement these foundational changes to restore our bond ratings and return our City to sound fiscal health.
Stay tuned to Black Westchester for updates, the residents have spoken overwhelmingly, you can call it a mandate, now the City Government of Mount Vernon has to work together and make it happen.