Supervisors vote 10-4 to initiate investigation into former manager, finance director

The Seneca County Board of Supervisors voted 10-4 on Tuesday to launch an investigation into the actions of former County Manager John Sheppard and former Finance Director Brandi Deeds.

All of it connected to the county’s ongoing financial woes.

The resolution came before the board during a Rule 29, which is placed at the end of the session for items that do not move through the traditional committee process.

The resolution resolves to “hereby authorize an outside and independent investigation, due to the facts brought forth by the Bonadio audit.” It goes on to read that the probe should include “mismanagement and mis-leadership that has led Seneca County down a path that may well cost over $100,000 in expenses for the extended audit.”

Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti made the motion and David Kaiser of Romulus offered a second.

The four board members opposed were Board Chairman Bob Shipley, Waterloo Town Supervisor Don Trout, Tyre Town Supervisor Ron McGreevy, and Ovid Town Supervisor Walt Prouty.

All other members of the board voted in favor of the probe.

“I tried to get answers by going through the proper channels, including filing of FOILs. The chairman of the board did not keep me in the loop as minority leader. He did not support my efforts and the county attorney said I was on a fishing expedition,” Lorenzetti explained. “I brought up the need to get answers weeks ago and was put off. I felt I had no recourse. This goes beyond finances, which the audit is dealing with. I want to see if the actions of the leadership of the finance department and county manager’s office involved wrongdoing that contributed to the situation.”

Romulus Town Supervisor told the Finger Lakes Times that he seconded the motion for several reasons.

“I understand that the estimate for the costs associated with straightening out the county finances could be up to an excess of $100,000 and that doesn’t include the cost of the secondary damage done to the county due to the disarray of that department,” Kaiser said. “Various grants were put in jeopardy and projects were pursued and funded without any true knowledge of where the funds would be coming from.”

“The Board of Supervisors owes it to the taxpayers and the many county staff who felt stifled from bringing these problems forward and understanding as to how this all came about,” he concluded.

Chairman Shipley called the move ‘hasty’ and noted that it was also ill-conceived, by his account of the circumstances.

“While I join my colleagues in demanding the highest level of accountability to all Seneca County residents and businesses, I believe this motion was ill-conceived,” he began in an emailed statement. “First, the motion was made under Rule 29 and was not referred by a committee. This procedural work-around is reserved for unavoidable, urgent legislative priorities. In this case, the matter should have been brought forward two weeks ago where meaningful dialogue and input could have been incorporated to further define and address the scope of an otherwise ambiguous resolution.”

He continued, “Second, an independent audit has already been in process for a number of weeks. Each year, our county’s financial activity is audited to safeguard against human error or fraudulent practices. Given the transition of several key leaders, this year’s audit was expanded to accommodate additional areas. To date, the audit team has evaluated a considerable amount of information and has corrected errors mainly related to account reconciliation.”

Shipley added that the ‘rampant’ suspicion from some members of the board is unwarranted.

It’s unclear what the next steps in the investigative process will be, but that a process has undoubtedly begun.

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