The council approved the committee’s mission statement in May, but a series of nominees to sit on the committee had been voted down, leaving it only partially filled until three members were approved at a Sept. 25 council meeting. The committee’s task is to “evaluate, generate and recommend financing strategies, both short and long term,” according to its mission statement, which specifically cites the city’s procurement procedures as a subject the committee should tackle.
Committee member Cynthia Lovecchio told the council that their preliminary fact-finding work had found several areas where the city’s procurement procedure was lacking, in some instances, severely. She directed the council’s attention to a list of areas that the committee had looked at, color-coded into red for “deeply problematic,” yellow for “kind of problematic,” and green for “acceptable and good.”
“As you can see,” she said, “there’s not a lot of green here.”
Lovecchio described the city’s written procurement policy as “extremely limited.” In her former industry, healthcare — which she called “the anal-retentive headquarters of the world — there were “books on books on books of purchasing systems and controls.” Not so for the City of Glen Cove. “The entire purchasing policy for a $60 million operation is 2 pages long,” she said. “You can’t ask people to follow good business practices if you don’t tell them what they are.”
City Controller Sandra Clarson has been working on linking a partially automated acquisition system with the city’s existing manual systems, and has recently purchased software that will help her do so. But a partially automated system, Lovecchio said, is the “worst of both worlds. . . . In any kind of system, it’s the handoffs where you make mistakes.”
Lovecchio also recommended that the city keep an inventory of the items in its possession, which it doesn’t currently do. A spreadsheet, she said, “showing what you own, where it is, where it is in the lifecycle, or when it’s going to need to be replaced,” could help the city plan for currently unforeseen expenses down the line and be more realistic about budgeting.
It was “a little disturbing overall,” Lovecchio said, that the committee “couldn’t find anything” that resembled policies of workplace behavior. “There’s nothing that speaks to self-dealing,” she said, “there’s nothing that speaks to conflict of interest, there’s nothing that speaks to theft or misappropriation.” Going out of her way to clarify that she wasn’t insinuating that these things were happening, she added, “I’m saying you don’t have any defenses against it happening.”
In response to Lovecchio’s suggestion that smaller charges be better tracked — by implementing a unified charge-card system, for example — Councilman Joseph Capobianco noted that the council frequently approves a large number of warrants for small amounts, less than $100 each. He asked whether employees should be expected to get quotes on purchases “every time they want to spend $50. There’s a cost-benefit analysis,” to the extra work involved.
She replied that for smaller expenses, “You don’t have to control it, you have to track it,” adding that when she was running a $300 million dollar division of the Northwell Health system, “I could not spend one cent that did not appear on paper somewhere.”
One of the key sticking points that frequently popped up in conversations about the Finance Committee before its creation was a concern that it would overload the Controller’s office — a department already stretched thin by limited resources and manpower. Mayor Tim Tenke said that any requests for information that the committee had would be filtered through his office.