Outgoing Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners has revealed details surrounding his office's investigation alleging theft of time by county employees.
Conners, a Democrat who is leaving office after a quarter-century, said Thursday his probe began more than a year ago when he discovered a situation involving discrepancies in the Kronos timekeeping system where a county employee was working two-full-time positions in two different departments simultaneously.
Conners' "Interim Report on Time & Attendance Audit" also found a number of county employees worked on County Executive Dan McCoy's re-election campaign on county time. McCoy, also a Democrat, has denied that. Conners said "To make sure there's no appearance of any kind of a hatchet job or a witch hunt or whatever terminology you want to use, we used an outside expert forensic auditor. There's two reasons for that. You get the objectivity from an outsider who has tremendous experience doing this and auditing Kronos time retention systems all over the Northeast. And you also get someone who is qualified and will be able to testify in any legal proceedings that arise from this audit and debates about this audit."
Conners expects the district attorney and the county legislature will want to examine email evidence that shows McCoy knew what was going on. "We think that there's potential criminality in some of these things that should be looked at, that's why we gave it to the district attorney."
District Attorney David Soares declined to comment. A spokesperson for McCoy said in a statement, “We have not received a copy of the report. However, we adamantly deny Mr. Conners’ general allegation of payroll fraud or abuse and it appears he does not understand the fundamental elements of the payroll system after more than two decades as county comptroller.”
- WATCH Conners' Press Conference
Conners quipped it will be interesting to watch the audit findings move through the legal system. "I've talked to people at the federal level and they believe that putting people in other departments, paying somebody out of DPW to work in recreation or to work in Children, Youth and Families is a criminal matter."
Conners says he and his staff poured through millions of county payroll records going back more than seven years, uncovering 163 county workers who received double payments as “ghost employees.” "I have spoken with the chairman of the county legislature and we are making a recommendation in this interim report that we be allowed to present in great length these findings and the details of these findings with the Personnel Committee, and with the audit and finance committee in a joint meeting, because it is a very complicated topic, and it's very important. The public needs to know that people are at work and performing tasks for the public and that they're being paid fairly. Secondly, county employees need to know that they're all being treated fairly and they're all being treated the same. The report will show clearly that is not the case.”
Conners also pointed to instances where supervisory personnel were helping employees bypass Kronos by manually entering hours worked, with no proof they actually worked the time in question. "That's why we wanted to interview the employees. To get the information. In the audit you're supposed to seek people who are going to give you information. People were not allowed to speak to our auditors or our audit team and were expressly forbidden from it by a letter from the county attorney."
It is uncertain whether Conners' successor, current Albany City Auditor Sue Rizzo, also a Democrat, will act on the audit results. "I was working during the press conference. Therefore, I haven't had a chance to actually listen to the live feed. But I'm in the middle of my transition to Albany County comptroller working with the transition team that I have in place. I've met with various department heads and continue to do some, do so during the next 12 days. I'm looking to hit the ground day one. This is an ongoing audit and I haven't had a chance to review in depth any of the materials and at this time, that's really all I have to say."
Conners has offered his services pro bono to the County Legislature in 2020 in the event the panel decides to act on the audit findings. He says he is returning to the private sector and is renting office space at 11 North Pearl Street to establish an insurance and consulting business.