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White and McCaffrey fire accusations at Lockport meeting

LOCKPORT – City Treasurer Michael E. White accused Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey and the Common Council on Wednesday of trying to evade responsibility for the city’s 2013-14 fiscal crisis, while McCaffrey fired back, “Our treasurer’s job performance in managing the city’s finances has been terrible.”

With both Republican officeholders running for re-election Nov. 3, Lockport voters will pass judgment on them and on a referendum to take away most of the treasurer’s duties, which McCaffrey urged voters to support. White called for the measure’s defeat “if you want to keep hearing the independent voice of the treasurer.”

White went to the microphone at the end of Wednesday’s Council meeting to rebut Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader, who two weeks ago publicly accused White, retired Chief Accountant Ruth E. Ohol, and unnamed department heads of losing track of nearly $800,000 the city borrowed for major projects as far back as 2012. Schrader said the city spent property tax money on the projects instead of the money it had borrowed, and if it hadn’t, the city wouldn’t have wiped out its fund balance, leading to emergency borrowing, layoffs of employees and a requirement that the city’s annual budget be preapproved by the State Comptroller’s Office.

“We’re being made to look like a bunch of fools, and the information is there,” White said. “I knew” about the capital funds, “my deputy knew. Chief Accountant Ohol knew, Mary Smith knew.” Smith is a consultant hired by the city in 2014.

White accused Schrader of “trying to put a feather in his $95,000-a-year cap, plus benefits.” McCaffrey said White “has failed to take any responsibility for the horrendous financial accounting statements.”

Ohol said, “I’ve been thrown under the bus. I noticed the 2014 budget looks pretty good. You didn’t say who watched that budget like a hawk. … It was me.”

White was cited in state audits for not providing the Council with accurate and timely financial reports. He has blamed the other elected officials’ refusal to fill staff vacancies in his office.

McCaffrey zinged White for seldom attending Council meetings until this summer and for not picking up the slack left by the vacancies. “Crisis demands commitment and stepping up when duty calls,” she said.

The audits also spanked the Council for passing a 2013 budget that assumed then-Mayor Michael W. Tucker would reach new contracts with city unions, containing massive health insurance savings. The deals never materialized and the budget was overspent by $1.26 million.

White said Schrader’s report “not once mentions the Council or the mayors.”

McCaffrey said it took a private accounting firm to tell the Council the city was in the hole, since White never did. She said the city’s former auditing firm “was rubber-stamping his inaccurate reports.”

Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick accused White of refusing to take part in efforts to improve fiscal management. “You want to know the truth?” he asked the audience. “Not everyone’s working on the same team.”