Ulster County Legislature Appoints An Interim Comptroller
The Ulster County Legislature Tuesday night appointed an interim county comptroller. It comes after Elliott Auerbach left the position in mid-May for a job in the state comptroller’s office. And it came with strong differences of opinion.
The legislature voted 16-to-6 in favor of appointing Adele Reiter as interim county comptroller through the end of the year. Reiter was appointed acting county executive in February, after Democrat Mike Hein left for a state position, and served until a few days ago. Reiter, a former Bronx assistant district attorney, had been Hein’s chief of staff. Democrat Pat Ryan, who won a special election for county executive, began in the post June 10. Yet it was a few Democrats who spoke out the loudest against Reiter’s appointment as interim comptroller, citing a conflict of interest, Legislator David Donaldson among them.
“I’m not going to leave it at this this evening. I will not stop at this. There will be papers filed. It is wrong and you know it’s wrong, and that’s the problem. You know it’s wrong but you’re going to do it anyway,” Donaldson says. “And that troubles me. It troubles me to no end. There’s got to be some integrity. Keep your integrity intact.”
Donaldson, before voting against Reiter, had offered an amendment to name CPA Rief Kanan as interim comptroller. Kanan is director of The Business Institute at the State University of New York at New Paltz’s School of Business. Republican Legislator Ken Ronk voted in favor of Reiter, saying she is the person best qualified for the temporary post, and called to tell her the news right after the vote.
“She’s very happy. What she said to me was, ‘I’ll make you proud,” Ronk says. “And I have no doubt.”
Ronk says Reiter’s experience as an interim county executive renders her uniquely qualified for the interim comptroller post. Donaldson says he will file papers with at least the county Ethics Board. And he is deciding whether to spend the money on any legal action he would bring against the legislature. Again, Ronk:
“I’ve been sued by Legislator Donaldson as chairman of the legislature, and I won that lawsuit. And I was sued by Comptroller Auerbach, and Legislator Donaldson wrote an affidavit in support of that lawsuit, and we won that one, too,” says Ronk. “So we’ve got a pretty good record against Legislator Donaldson.”
Tracey Bartels, the Legislature chair, aligns with the Democrats but is not enrolled with a party. She explained Tuesday night that her vote against Reiter was nothing personal and that she has a lot of respect for her.
“Just two days ago, Adele Reiter was serving as our chief executive officer, and tomorrow she’ll begin as our chief auditing officer charged with looking at the very, very programs that she put in place, at the operations that she chose and at the departments that she effectively ran,” Bartels says. “And that creates, it creates a conflict of interest, it creates a threat to independence, and I think it puts that office in jeopardy.”
Democratic Legislator Kathy Nolan said her vote in support of Reiter was an emphatic yes, and, like Ronk, believes Reiter would recuse herself from any potential conflicts of interest.
“The duties of the comptroller as listed in the charter, include many, include most that are financial rather than audit in character,” Nolan says. “And when they are audit in character, they’re conducted as internal audits with a staff that does that.”
“The way I explain it to people why there’s not a conflict of interest is by saying what I believe would be a conflict of interest. And what I believe would be a conflict of interest is if Adele went to work for our external auditor. Every year we have an external audit done by Drescher & Malecki. And if she went to work for Drescher & Malecki and became the engagement partner or Ulster County, I would find that to be a conflict because that an audit of her work; it’s an after audit,” says Ronk. “The actions of the Ulster County comptroller are a ‘while things are going on’ kind of audit.”
“I actually got an unsolicited letter from the Association of Local Government Auditors,” Donaldson says. “And they pointed out that putting Adele Reiter in there is a conflict of interest and we should not be doing it.”
Bartels says the chief audit function is designed to be independent.
“The offset of the offices, in part, was to ensure that if someone who had served as executive, wanted to serve as comptroller, there would that two-year lag in terms of looking back at work and it would provide that distance,” Bartels says. “This is something I don’t think the framers of our charter, and I was there at the time, could have foreseen.”
There will be a special election in November to fill the remaining two years of the comptroller’s four-year term.