The war of words between the Poloncarz administration and the Erie County Comptroller’s Office escalated this week, with the county executive accusing the comptroller of damaging the reputation of the fiscal watchdog.
The administration struck back more than two weeks after the Comptroller’s Office released an inconclusive audit on Department of Social Services protocols for recertifying recipients of temporary assistance benefits.
In a letter to County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw dated Tuesday, DSS Commissioner Carol M. Dankert-Maurer rejected the report’s findings, calling it “deeply flawed.”
“In a five-page audit report, 1½ pages are boilerplate audit terminology and nearly three full pages are dedicated to a discussion of records storage/retention and security and recycling totes, neither of which were within the original scope or purpose of the audit,” Dankert-Maurer wrote.
Mychajliw has said the scope of the audit was expanded after Social Services workers told auditors that copies of sensitive documents from residents seeking benefits were being stored in unlocked totes, potentially exposing those residents to identity theft.
Meanwhile, in a news release this week, the administration accused Deputy Comptroller Teresa M. Fraas of using deception to obtain the DSS tote containing nearly 1,700 personal documents back in March. The tote and its contents have since been returned to Social Services.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz also accused Mychajliw of ruining the credibility of the Comptroller’s Office.
“Due to the actions of his deputy comptroller and the release of this deeply flawed audit, Mr. Mychajliw has completely undermined his personal credibility and damaged the reputation of the comptroller’s office,” Poloncarz said in the release.
“The audit proves Mr. Mychajliw is more interested in manufacturing attacks on this administration for political gain than working on behalf of taxpayers to help improve county government. It is very disappointing to see that he has transformed his office into nothing more than a partisan, political attack dog. Erie County residents deserve better.”
Thursday, Mychajliw defended the actions of his department.
“We covered this weeks ago. Because they put up so many roadblocks and they refused auditors access to their files, we could not complete the audit,” he said. “We told this to the Legislature and the director of Social Services weeks ago. This leads me to believe that this is nothing more than a hyperpartisan cheap shot in an election year.”
In her letter to the comptroller, Dankert-Maurer said Mychajliw’s audit violated generally accepted government auditing standards. “The comptroller’s office did not provide DSS with an opportunity for an exit conference, and did not allow DSS any opportunity to make oral or written comments in response to the audit,” she said.
Based on those violations of the standards and the fact that the report offered no evidence that the department was improperly recertifying residents for temporary assistance benefits, “DSS rejects the opinions expressed by the comptroller’s office,” Dankert-Maurer added.
Fraas responded Thursday that those standards are only recommendations.
However, administration officials said Fraas assured them at the beginning of the audit that the Comptroller’s Office follows those principles. They also said county law requires it. A June 25 letter from the Comptroller’s Office to the County Legislature also offers that assurance.
The county comptroller confirmed Thursday that his office is still in the midst of conducting another audit into how Social Services recertifies recipients of Medicaid benefits.
“The Medicaid audit is still ongoing,” Mychajliw said, “and we will issue a report on that, as well.”