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Letter: Norwalk Democrats Seek Forensic Audit

NORWALK, Conn. — The NorwalkDailyVoice.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters @ norwalkdailyvoice.com .

To the Editor,

The shocking disclosure that the Board of Education's current budget is $4 million or more out of balance creates justified alarm. After several weeks, no easy answers or explanations have appeared. Nor does there seem to be a plan to independently examine how the shortfall occurred in the first place.

The Common Council, as the people's representatives, should take the lead to get to the bottom of the issue. We believe the council should conduct focused fact-finding hearings and invite representatives from the Board of Education, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Finance Department, and the city's and Board of Education's auditors so we can jointly explore all the facts. We believe the council should hire an independent, forensic auditor to review the school board's budget and accounting practices. The auditor should be selected by and should report to a bipartisan committee of the Common Council (with an equal number of Republican and Democratic council members).

Among other things, the forensic audit should examine: (1) where did the money go, (2) why did the loss go uncovered for so long, (3) were all education expenditures approved by the BOE or under BOE established policies, (4) were funds spent, as has been reported, on staff which were not approved by the BOE, (5) was the calculation for other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, wrong, and (6) if the OPEB number was wrong, because that calculation is included in the city budget and reviewed by the city's consultants annually, how did this error go undetected? These are only some of the pressing questions presented.

Because we believe some of the responsibility for the current mess might lie with the city, we do not believe either the Finance Department or the Board of Estimate and Taxation should control the audit. While we welcome their participation and cooperation, we believe the auditor should be independent of any individual or group that might have been complicit in this debacle.

We do not know ultimately who will shoulder the blame. That's the point of an independent forensic audit. It takes a lot to lose $4 million. It takes more to have the loss go undiscovered for so long.

But we do believe a good share of the responsibility can be assessed.

We have seen a series of monumental financial screw-ups in the last few years, both locally and nationally. Wall Street's infamous Enron scheme, the 2008 financial meltdown, and now the Board of Education's financial crisis all have one thing in common. In our opinion, these three catastrophic situations were created in large part because the governing boards did not exercise rigorous oversight. They did not ask the tough questions. And if they did ask the questions, when they did not get the answers or information they wanted, they did not press hard enough to get the answers.

Holding a position on a corporate or not-for-profit board or holding an elected office can be a rewarding experience. But with the title comes a responsibility: to ask tough, uncomfortable questions; not to take anything at face value; to take unpopular positions; and sometimes, frankly, to be a big pain in the butt. We know how difficult it can be at times. We have tried to question the conventional wisdom on every issue and it is not always fun. But when you question orthodoxy, what else can you expect?

At the end of the day, the Board of Education and the administration have to accept a great deal of the responsibility. It happened on their watch. And they either did not know about it, or they knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The public deserves a complete accounting of what transpired, the identification of all those culpable and a rigorous plan to make sure these events are not repeated in the future.

Matt Miklave, Council Member, District A (D)

David Watts, Council Member, District A (D)

Carvin Hilliard, Council President, Member, District B (D)

John Igneri, Council Member, District E (D)

Anna Duleep, Council Minority Leader, Member, At Large (D)

Warren Pena, Council Member, At Large (D)

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