Former comptroller brought in to look at Southampton Town capital budget

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The current controversy over Southampton Town’s capital budget, which has pitted the current administration against the prior one at times, has led to a reconciliation of sorts.

New Deputy Supervisor Bill Jones and town financial consultant Tamara Wright met with former Town Comptroller Charlene Kagel on Presidents Day in an effort to iron out a discrepancy in the capital budget, one that town financial officers have reported to be as high as $19 million and as low as $250,000.

Mr. Jones, who replaced Richard Blowes as deputy supervisor earlier this month, said the meeting at Town Hall with Ms. Kagel was very productive and that more are likely to follow.

“I’ve always had a good working relationship with her,” Mr. Jones said. “She was able to answer a lot of questions about the process of securing funding, how the books were kept, tracking bonds and when borrowing took place.”

Mr. Jones said he reached out to the former comptroller after Town Board members suggested that she be brought in to review the financial books. Ms. Kagel, who served as comptroller from 2003 until last February, when she became the commissioner of finance for Brookhaven Town, said she had initially offered to help in the transition between her staff and incoming Town Comptroller Steve Brautigam.

But during a meeting in January 2008, Ms. Kagel said she was told in no uncertain terms by Mr. Blowes that her services were not needed or wanted. Ms. Kagel’s claim was substantiated by Town Board members Chris Nuzzi and Anna Throne-Holst, who were present at that meeting. Mr. Nuzzi has pointed to a poor transition as one of the main reasons for the current capital budget debacle.

During the controversy that ensued after the discrepancy in the capital budget, Ms. Kagel said she was willing to come in at any time to help straighten out the town’s financial records. Ms. Kagel, who lives in Southampton, said she has a vested interest in the town’s finances as a taxpayer and resident.

In a way, Mr. Jones said, the recent meeting was part of a “late transition” at Town Hall. “There are charts and other information in the system that Charlene knew about that she was able to show us that will help put the puzzle together,” Mr. Jones said.

“In the comptroller’s computer files, there are supporting schedules, spreadsheets, policies and procedures, which I developed and reconciled regularly in accordance with accounting standards and practices,” Ms. Kagel said. “As I suspected, none of which has been followed or updated, because no one knew they existed.”

After Town Supervisor Linda Kabot mentioned in a work session last month that the town had less cash on hand for capital projects than indicated on town computers, a back-and-forth ensued over who was to blame for the shortfall.

When the controversy first came to light, Ms. Kabot characterized the discrepancy, then estimated by town officials at $19 million, as a mere accounting error due to bad record-keeping by the administration led by former Town Supervisor Patrick Heaney, of which Ms. Kagel was a part. “This has been a quandary for the last six years,” Ms. Kabot said in late January.

Ms. Kagel has dismissed those allegations, stating that she left the town’s books in good shape and cited the results of a 2007 audit that gave the town a clean fiscal bill of health.

According to Mr. Jones, after his meeting with the former comptroller, Ms. Kabot came into the room and thanked Ms. Kagel for coming in on a vacation day to help out with the capital budget. “While awkward, it was absolutely necessary,” Mr. Jones said of the exchange. “We need to put all that behind us.”

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