It is time for some answers.
City of Dunkirk officials have been working on the audit report concerning the use of Community Development Block Grant funds and part of the effort has been trying to determine if payments were made that were not authorized.
City Attorney Ron Szot told the Common Council Finance Committee on Monday that the audit done by the state comptroller's office revealed some $26,000 of expenditures in the Dunkirk Local Development Corporation checkbook. Szot added a look at electronic records found no documentation for the payments, which went to former Development Director Kory Ahlstrom and current Community Block Grant Development Coordinator Tim Gornikiewicz.
"What we've done is we reached out to both of the payees giving a schedule of the check-by-check payments that have been made and an explanation that there's been a review of the digital and paper records and no approval that we can find, and asking if there's some sort of paperwork that we may have missed," Szot stated.
The payments continued in 2012 until Mayor Anthony J. Dolce stopped them.
"What I did was I continued the payments until I knew otherwise," he explained. "When our auditor was here I asked her what's the process? She said the payments themselves were not improper, the fact that there was no authorization was the issue. At that point I stopped the payments."
The DLDC board needed to authorize payments.
First Ward Councilman Michael Michalski and Finance Committee chairman Michael Michalski asked about legal recourse.
Szot said the individuals have been given the opportunity to address the concerns in letters sent Dec. 7. It was decided to give 10 business days to allow a response.
"We know this whole 27 pages is based on; 'there's no records.' Well, maybe there's something someone thinks exists," Szot explained.
"There may be two different recourses depending on how they answer," Dolce noted.
After the meeting, Dolce was asked about things he has said were concealed.
"There's a couple sections in here that have mentioned that certain programs, whether it's loans, if you will, or facade money, that didn't run through the proper channels. Again, I'm not saying that the uses were off, but the procedure about how they went about it was off," he explained. "Certain things like the (Bertges) parking lot was concealed that didn't go through any certain process. One of the loans DLDC did approve for $100,000 but the check went out for $125,000. So even when the approval was there sometimes the amounts didn't match up. That's what I was alluding to."
Dolce was asked if the motivation was to get something done or more sinister.
"I'll let the public draw their own conclusions. I think the audit illuminated that, maybe a little bit of both," he replied. "Maybe there was a way that there's something, for example the taking down of the Bertges property, the building, the showroom, that didn't go through any formal procedure. What the intent of the previous administration was to do that, I don't know. But it wasn't done the way it should have been done and that's what we see a lot of in this report. Just an attempt to conceal a few things for whatever purpose and how they so chose."
Dolce was on the DLDC board of directors as a council member but said it was a difficult process to follow.
"As an example, they went seven months at one point without a meeting and the next thing you know there's a quick turnaround on an RFP for the Flickinger Building for a preferred developer," he explained. "We've worked with the individual. I think Mr. Burke is a tremendous developer and could be an asset to that building, but it's just another example, again of not so much what they did, but how they went about doing it is what we need to address from this audit."
Both Ahlstrom and Gornikiewicz were appointed by then Mayor Richard Frey in August 2008 and approved by a 4-1 vote of Common Council. Dolce was First Ward councilman at the time but it was then Second Ward Councilman Kevin Muldowney who provided the no vote.
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