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People need answers on Lake Placid clerk

January 8, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

Lake Placid residents have read how the state comptroller's office blasted the village clerk and the village's overall money-handling. They've read the mayor say that the problems have been remedied, that "the candy jar this report refers to has long since been removed." They've read that the auditors think the village board should pursue criminal charges against Clerk Kathryn "Kook" McKillip. They've also read that she says she's innocent of any wrongdoing, although she won't say much more than that.

They also know she's still working, and they're paying her salary.

"I'm not uncomfortable with her position right now," Mayor Craig Randall said Monday. "The issues that caused this problem are well under control. Checks and balances have been put in place."

That statement boils down to "Trust me." Mayor Randall is putting himself on the line for the clerk, at least for now.

Should Ms. McKillip be prosecuted for theft? Should she be fired? Should others be disciplined? Should the village take steps to get money back from those who received unauthorized payments - at least $22,774 that Ms. McKillip allegedly paid herself for leave time she had never earned? These are the questions we hear local people asking.

Many Placidians know the clerk and the mayor personally, and they're willing to withhold judgment until they hear her side of the story. A report in this week's Lake Placid News shows that most people interviewed were not willing to speak out for the record but were eager for answers.

They won't hold that balance for long. If Ms. McKillip doesn't explain her side soon, honestly and in detail, more people will clamor for her to be taken to task.

"I don't think it's the intent of the board that this should be a long, drawn-out affair," Randall said. "There is an investigation that's ongoing, our own investigation, and that has to work its way though."

Whether that investigation is done or not, Monday night's village board meeting would be a good time to start a much-needed dialogue with the public. Any village resident interested in hearing more about this should consider attending; it starts at 5:30 p.m. at the North Elba Town Hall.


The audit findings

The comptroller's office painted a pretty grim picture of how Lake Placid taxpayers were fleeced out of $111,058. Supervision of McKillip's money-handling, and her oversight of village departments, was weak to nonexistent, auditors said. In many ways, departments had their own informal ways of keeping track of hours worked and leave time accrued.

While worse things could have happened in such an environment, what the state auditors found was pretty bad.

More than $93,000 of the $111,000 loss came from leave-time payouts. The village's personnel policy doesn't let non-union employees get paid for unused leave time (vacation, sick, etc.), and the same goes for three of the village's five unions - it's "use it or lose it." Yet 14 employees did get paid for unused leave time when they shouldn't have, including seven department heads and Ms. McKillip. She gave herself the most by far - $38,003 in unauthorized leave-time payouts, including, worst of all, $22,774 for leave time she had never even accrued.

That sounds like stealing, and no small amount, either - a year's full-time wages for many people.

She kept her own leave accrual records, and the numbers are kind of amazing. According to the audit, she paid herself for 1,384.5 unused leave hours- that's 34.6 weeks, at 40 hours a week - over less than three-and-a-half years. In each of two years, she paid herself for 350 vacation hours - 8.75 weeks - plus a 40-hour week's worth of personal time. Some years she also added 100 or more hours of compensatory time.

The audit found more problems, like paying $17,973 for ex-employees' health and dental insurance after they stopped working for the village, plus messes with check signing, time cards and water and sewer billing.

Put simply, well run villages don't do any of this stuff. It seems to show evidence of incompetence and possibly theft. Just knowing what's been reported publicly so far, it would make sense for the village board to fire Ms. McKillip and at least make her pay back the $22,774.

But Ms. McKillip says she is innocent. Perhaps her side of the story will change the verdict. We hope she shares it soon.



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