Niagara Gazette

January 24, 2013

Housing authority officials disagree with audit findings

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls Housing Authority officials “strenuously” disagree with the findings of the New York State Comptroller’s Office, as noted in a letter delivered to the state agency by authority board Chairman Kevin Dobbs.

In a letter to state Comptroller Tom Dinapoli’s office dated Dec. 17, 2012, Dobbs said auditors supplied “no proof or actual allegation” supporting the claim that the board failed to ensure Executive Director Stephanie Cowart followed proper protocols. He also denied the comptroller’s assertion that a “culture of allowing the executive director to disregard the override control procedures” exists at the housing authority, saying auditors did not provide “a single example” to support their “conclusory statement.”

Authority officials also suggested that, contrary to the comptroller’s findings, all stipends received by Cowart were allocated in keeping with the terms of her contract and, where appropriate, with prior board authorization.

“There is ample evidence that the board provided sufficient oversight to the executive director and the operations of the authority,” Dobbs letter reads.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Dobbs said he was pleased by the overall findings of the audit, noting as he did in his letter that no instances of “fiscal mismanagement or inappropriate use of public funds” were found.

As for the findings as they related to Cowart, Dobbs said he felt as though the authority provided sufficient documentation and evidence supporting its stance that all stipends and vacation accruals were either allowed under the terms of the her contract or approved by the board itself.

“I don’t feel bad about the audit,” Dobbs said. “I think they looked at the overall operation and it’s running fairly decent, I would say. As far as the findings they had with Stephanie, I think we addressed them as clearly as we could.”

Cowart said she agreed with the board’s position on the audit as outlined in Dobbs’ response to the comptroller’s office, denying having received “improper” payments of any kind.

“Any payments that I received were in accordance with my contract and were also done with prior board approval,” she said.

Dobbs said the board will work with the authority’s attorney to address the recommendations outlined in the auditors’ report, including compensation and benefits for .

“That’s something that we are going to look at as far as defining her contract a little better,” Dobbs said. “We believe that her contract is sufficiently detailed, but we’re going to look at it again.”