Stewart breaks silence on city credit card charges

PLATTSBURGH It appears an agreement has been reached regarding expenses made by former City Mayor Daniel L. Stewart. This week, Stewart received confirmation the city of Plattsburgh has received a check he issued for $1,545.99 to cover a portion of expenditures he made while in office. Last December, current Mayor Donald M. Kasprzak held a press conference about what he called unreceipted expenditures by his predecessor. During the press conference, Kasprzak reviewed a preliminary draft of an audit of the citys finances conducted in January 2007 by the state Office of the State Comptroller. The mayor said several discrepancies in spending by Stewart were found during a period from Jan. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006. The audit prompted Kasprzak to seek a second audit, examining city expenditures as far back as 2003. Overall, $10,430.38 was considered improperly documented by the former mayor. City councilman Christopher J. Jackson, D-Ward 6, who is on the councils auditing committee with councilman James E. Calnon, I-Ward 4, said the expenditures were further reviewed, with the committee believing Stewart ultimately owed $2,571.26 approximately one-fourth of the amount originally questioned. That amount was further reduced to $1,545.99, after both parties exchanged further counteroffers. We went through the claims, and though they may have been poorly documented, we identified what we thought was appropriate city business and then there was some charges we didnt think were appropriate, said Jackson. One such charge was for a satellite radio system purchased from Best Buy in May 2005. The system, which cost $207.83, was installed in a city vehicle, said Jackson. Another charge, was for a trip to Duke University. Other miscellaneous charges that remained questionable, said Jackson, were purchases of software and hotel stays and meals in Albany and New York City, among others. In an exclusive interview with Stewart, the former mayor responded to the questioned expenditures, going over documentation his attorney, Robert J. Muller, received from the city. The satellite radio the committee questioned, said Stewart, was purchased for the city vehicle Stewart used while in office. The satellite radio was purchased to aid him in finding what routes would be less congested when traveling to destinations like New York City while on city business by utilizing its 24/7 traffic channels, he said. Stewart further said he paid for the subscription to the service while in office and the radio remains in the city vehicle he used. Its still in the car that the city has at the police station, said Stewart. Initial findings in the audit committees report also questioned $491.35 in software expenses, said Stewart. However, $243.39 were dismissed in the report with a notation that reads Inconclusive, we will assume they are legitimate. Well, of course theyre legitimate, said Stewart as he reviewed the report. Symantec, he said, referring to four of the charges from 2003-2005, is for anti-virus software. Defensive Surfing was something I purchased to stop pop-ups. The same with MailWiper and SpamBully. Each of the programs was purchased for a subscription period, Stewart explained, with some requiring monthly fees. He added that no software was valid and subscriptions had ended long before he left office. Another charge was for $102.22 from publisher McGraw-Hill, which Stewart said was for learning French to communicate with French-speaking dignitaries from Quebec. The books were not found at city hall when the committee looked for them; Stewart said he mistakenly had them in his possession and is making arrangements to donate them to the city library. These were all used in the performance of my duties as mayor, Stewart said, referring to the software and books. During the December 2007 press conference, Kasprzak questioned Stewarts December 2004 trip to Duke University in Durham, N.C. The trip, said Stewart, was at the request of then Gov. George E. Patakis office. Duke agreed to reimburse the city up to $500, ultimately reimbursing $427, said Stewart. He was then cut a check which he used to pay the city, he continued, further reimbursing the city for the remainder of the overall amount. The city was unable to find documentation of his payment, leading him to agree to pay up to $500 again for the trip. A July 2003 costume rental from Malabar Limited, based in Montreal, was also questioned in the audit. The costume, said Stewart, was rented for his portrayal of The Wizard in the Adirondack Regional Theatres city-sponsored production of The Wizard of Oz. The city also questioned a $28 charge for gasoline at an Exxon Mobil station during a April 2004 trip to New York City. According to the audit, the city believed Stewarts trip to be of a personal nature because there was no further evidence of him being on city business, which Stewart refutes, but said he will pay under protest. In that case, I had traveled to meet with [state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation] Commissioner Bernadette Castro, explained Stewart. When I got there, I literally got no time with her. So, instead of driving the six hours back, I stayed in a hotel at my own expense. But, because I didnt have any other receipts to show why I was there, the city thinks I was there on personal business. The April 2004 trip wasnt the only one where Stewart said he didnt submit a receipt for an overnight stay or meals. In several instances, Stewart said he never filed for certain reimbursement for travel and meals related to city business, for which he was eligible under state travel guidelines. If the city of Plattsburgh were to pay me for the numerous unreceipted overnight charges I could have charged to it for the period of six and a half years, the city would owe me a large sum of money, said Stewart. Stewart called Kasprzaks December 2007 press conference regarding the matter beautifully staged, referring to stacks of papers the mayor had in his possession when questioning the expenses. It turns out 90 percent of the citys claims werent valid and the other 10 percent, in my opinion, are extremely questionable, said Stewart. In the end, Stewart said it was simply less expensive for him to pay for the charges than to continue pursuing the matter at his own expense. This is now mostly about clearing my name and the absurdity of the city in their witch hunt directed by the mayor, said Stewart. Kasprzak said he has not been involved with this issue since January, when the city sent Stewart a letter with a reimbursement request generated by the state comptrollers audit, and referred questions to Jackson. The councilman stated it was not the intent to accuse the former mayor of financial wrongdoing, but rather to clarify questions the council had. What youve got to remember is that the expenses were poorly documented; it doesnt mean that the expenses were in appropriate, said Jackson. There were definitely things he was doing on city business that were absolutely appropriate, he just wasnt good at documenting. The benefit of the audit was the approval of new travel and city credit card use policies, said Jackson.

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