Financial disclosures for Mount Vernon's top officials for 2007, including Mayor Ernie Davis, have gone missing from City Hall archives and the legal department is unable explain what happened to the state-required documents.
After weeks of delay, Mount Vernon officials responded this week to a Newsday request under the Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, for the mayor's financial disclosure forms spanning his years in office by saying City Hall only has one year on file, 2012.
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State law requires municipalities to save the filings for at least seven years, after which they may be destroyed. In Mount Vernon, the city clerk is responsible for the documents, which are supposed to be reviewed yearly by the city's Ethics Board.
In a response to Newsday's FOIL request, Assistant Corporation Counsel Jennifer Ratan wrote that no financial disclosures could be found "for anyone" for 2007 -- which should still be available -- and previous filings were no longer available.
Elected officials must file these documents annually while they are in office, revealing all financial interests including properties they own, bank accounts and investments, as well as their value and income derived from them. The value of Davis' properties and the amount of rental income they generate were redacted from his 2012 disclosure obtained by Newsday. Davis, 74, owns 10 properties worth more than $1 million in four states, records show.
"There are no financial disclosures for Mayor Ernest D. Davis for the years 1994 (sic) to 2005, nor is there a requirement for those records to be maintained," Ratan wrote to Newsday explaining the absence of filings for officials.
Davis was mayor from 1995 to 2007, when he was voted out of office. He was elected again in November 2011 and began serving in 2012.
TEMPERS FLARE OVER MISSING DOCUMENTS
City Council President Yuhanna Edwards reportedly has sent a letter to City Clerk George Brown inquiring about the missing documents. A tense confrontation erupted between the two men at Wednesday's closed-door council meeting, according two council members who were present but didn't want to be identified. Brown stormed out of the meeting uttering expletives. He didn't return a phone call Friday seeking comment.
Nichelle Johnson, Davis' chief of staff and the city attorney, has ignored repeated calls for comment on this -- or any other -- topic.
Davis is facing a federal investigation into his personal finances, examining how the mayor, who earns about $200,000 a year from his salary and state pension, acquired those properties and whether he properly reported rental income from the residences to the Internal Revenue Service.
The missing year of financial disclosures coincides with a previous federal investigation of City Hall involving the city's Planning and Public Works departments that led to convictions of several members of the Davis administration.
In one case, his former planning commissioner, Constance "Gerrie" Post, and Wayne Charles, a Mount Vernon entrepreneur, were accused of overbilling the federal government by $1.7 million in Section 8 housing subsidies between 2003 and 2004.
Both were convicted of fraud in 2008 and the state eventually took over the program.
Another case involved trash haulers overbilling the city by $1.25 million. James Castaldo, a public works supervisor, was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison in 2008 after admitting that he took $50,000 in bribes from waste collectors.
SOURCES: RECORD-KEEPING A 'MESS BY DESIGN'
Federal investigators who subpoenaed all of Davis' financial disclosure forms only received one in response from City Hall, a source familiar with the case told Newsday. The city's Ethics Board, which is required to review the documents to ensure that city officials don't have a conflict of interest, also has complained about a lack of financial disclosures.
A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation called Mount Vernon's record keeping a "mess by design."
Under the city's charter, the financial disclosure forms are filed after every year of public service and reviewed by the city's Board of Ethics for potential conflicts of interest. The five-member board, however, only began meeting regularly in 2011 and it wasn't clear if previous boards had reviewed Davis' other financial disclosure forms or found conflicts.
"The hope is that if a local Ethics Board reaches the conclusion that a financial disclosure doesn't smell good that they would do some investigating," said Bob Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.
Ronnie Cox, chairwoman of the city's Ethics Board, declined to comment about the missing documents.
Previously, Davis has admitted to Newsday that he amended his 2012 financial disclosure forms in December after he realized that federal authorities were investigating his finances. Davis told Newsday that he "rushed through" the documents when he initially filed them last May and omitted one of the 10 properties he owns and from which he derives income.
With Timothy O'Connor