Friday, March 04, 2011

Can Susan Bysiewicz Add And Subtract?

A critical auditor’s report on the Secretary of State’s office comes at an inopportune time for former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, now running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by current Sen. Joe Lieberman at the completion of his term.

Mrs. Bysiewicz came under intense scrutiny when she ran for attorney general following an announcement that current Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was to run for former Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat. Mrs. Bysiewicz campaign was derailed by a state Supreme Court decision that she lacked the requisite legal experience before the bar to run for the office.

The auditor’s report shows that accounting procedures in the Secretary of State’s office during her tenure led to an overstatement of customers balances of some $5.2 million out of a total of $12.5, according to a story filed by Yankee Institute investigative reporter Zach Janowski. None of the twenty accounts with the highest balances were correct, and erroneous accounts could have existed for about ten years.

Responding to the auditor’s disclosures, present Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone said the balances, which function similar to escrow accounts for law firms and companies regularly filing with the Secretary of State’s office, “need to be accurate. As the deputy, I’m going to have to investigate this further. I run the day-to-day operations and I’ve been at it for eight weeks.”

Other problems found by the auditors included:

• Questionable sick days: Within the three year period reviewed by the auditors, 30 employees who had taken unpaid leave nevertheless earned sick days as if they had been working full time.

• Delinquent check deposits: Of 20 checks deposited on Aug. 5, 2010, 19 were deposited between one and three days late.

• Questionable settlements: The auditors reviewed 20 of the office's investigations and found charges reduced in 13 cases, the reductions ranging from 50 to 82 percent of the original amounts. In 9 of the 13 cases, no documentation was available and, according to the audit, the assistant attorney general did not sign off on any of the reductions as required.

The Secretary of State’s office responded within the audit to some of the findings. The errors in customer balances were attributed to data entry errors; check numbers instead of amounts were entered in “amount” fields for 19 of the 20 questionable accounts. Management, the office claimed in the auditor’s report, was negotiating with customers to resolve imbalances in the final account.

Some people, myself included, believe to this day that the mischievously fuzzy Supreme Court ruling that wrecked Mrs. Bysiewicz’s attorney general bid was flawed.

The statute requiring a certain number of years of “active practice” at law appears to be in conflict with a constitutional provision that sets only an age limit as a bar to the office; and in cases of conflict between a statute and the clear intent of a constitutional provision, it must be the statute and not the constitution that is unconstitutional. Further, the state Supreme Court’s ruling bars competent administrators from assuming the office and is silent on the all important question: What constitutes “active practice,” effectively putting in jeopardy the administrative judgments made by current Attorney General George Jepsen, a perfectly acceptable candidate for the office, whose practice before the bar may not meet the fuzzy strictures imposed by the court.

Mrs. Bysiewicz may be approaching the end of her nine lives. After a certain point, inattentiveness to serious problems begins to look alarmingly like incompetence. The errors found by the auditors, it will doubtless be stressed by Mrs. Bysiewicz’s Democratic and Republican competition for Mr. Lieberman’s seat in congress, were hidden in the woodwork of Mrs. Bysiewicz’s work-a-day processes for TEN YEARS before notice was taken of them following the auditor’s report, at which point the undiffused charges leapt out to further confound Mrs. Bysiewicz’s ambitions for high office.
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