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Jan 29, 2009 11:29 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former town comptroller defends her record keeping

Jan 29, 2009 11:29 AM

Former Southampton Town Comptroller Charlene Kagel said that allegations leveled at her by Town Supervisor Linda Kabot regarding “bad record-keeping,” which pertain to millions of dollars now unaccounted for in the town’s capital budget, are “not only incorrect but deliberately disparaging.”

Ms. Kagel responded in an e-mail on Saturday to comments the supervisor made about a $19 million discrepancy in the town’s capital budget after the story was posted on The Press’s website, 27east.com. Describing the troubles with the capital budget at a Town Board work session on Friday, Ms. Kabot said, “This has been a quandary for the last six years.”

Ms. Kagel, who became comptroller in 2003 and left her town post last year to take a job in Brookhaven Town, dismissed that claim and cited the results of the 2007 audit, the last conducted during her tenure as comptroller: “The independent auditors, Albrecht, Viggiano, and Zureck, issued the audited financial statements for the year ending 2007, which was under my management, and issued a clean report.

“It has been Ms. Kabot’s standard operating procedure to continuously blame the former administration for her woes,” Ms. Kagel continued in the e-mail.

The former comptroller also responded to statements made by Town Board member Chris Nuzzi, who pointed to a rough transition involving Ms. Kagel and her successor, Steve Brautigam, saying that during a January 2008 
meeting she offered to help the incoming financial team.

“To expand on comments made by Councilman Nuzzi, I offered my assistance during the transition for the benefit of the town, as a taxpayer and resident, and was told in no uncertain terms by [Deputy Supervisor Richard] Blowes that my help was not needed or wanted,” Ms. Kagel said.

Regarding her offer to help with the transition, Ms. Kagel said, “I want to help, because as a taxpayer and resident of Southampton, I have a vested interest. ... There is a standard procedure for a transition between comptrollers. I feel for Steve Brautigam because he was unable to benefit from that standard procedure.”

Expanding on her comments in a telephone interview on Saturday, she said, “I left specific instructions for all capital files and year-end closes, but nobody has been given the access to the information that I left.”

Town Board member Anna Throne-Holst, who was at that January meeting, confirmed the former comptroller’s offer to aid in the transition. “I also recommendedthat the new financial consultant that I suggested be brought in to reach out to Ms. Kagel as well,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.

Mr. Blowes, however, did not recall such a meeting and said he never told Ms. Kagel she was not wanted.

But Ms. Kagel maintains that meeting took place and said she eventually walked out after Mr. Blowes insulted her. “He told me I was not a good comptroller,” she said. “So I walked out.”

The real problem with the capital funds, Ms. Kagel said, is that Town Board members do not have access to accurate and timely financial information since her departure. “No one knows how to produce it,” she said, adding that her offer to assist the town still stands.

“I have no problem with her coming in to assist,” Mr. Blowes said. “But she shouldn’t come in and be given free access. If she can come in and assist, then, by all means, that could be very helpful.”

The former comptroller blames the inability of the town’s Finance Department, under Mr. Blowes’s direction, for the lack of the necessary financial information required. “While Mr. Blowes has extensive knowledge of town operations, he is not an accountant, she said. Therefore, he doesn’t understand the financial information,” Ms. Kagel added.

She suggested that the reason for the $19 million discrepancy in the capital projects fund is a lack of understanding of the mechanisms of issuing bonds for capital funding and how those transactions are recorded, as well as a failure to communicate that to the Town Board.

Ms. Kagel said she still wants to help the town reconcile the capital budget and believes that she can help: “I feel I could provide some benefit if I was brought in.”

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