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Suffolk audit can't verify the work hours of elections board commissioners 

An audit by Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy,

An audit by Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, shown, could not verify the work hours of the top officials of the county Board of Elections. Credit: James Escher

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy has issued an audit on the pay reporting practices of top officials of the county Board of Elections, but could not verify their work hours.

In an eight-page audit covering 2016-17, Kennedy said he was “unable to insure the accuracy of hours worked and benefit hours utilized” by the board’s Republican commissioner and the Democratic commissioner and her deputy.

The audit also cited “conflicting guidance as to the rules governing board employees.”

The audit, issued May 2, came after legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) asked Kennedy in 2017 to review time sheets of GOP Commissioner Nicholas LaLota, who was taking day classes as a part-time student at Hofstra Law School while working a full-time county job.

The audit found LaLota “does not utilize a daily attendance sheet and does not sign in when he arrives to work.” LaLota said he “records actual hours worked on his Time and Accrual records,” and also “records time spent on emails and phone calls while away from the office,” the audit said.

The audit also found Democratic elections Commissioner Anita Katz and former deputy Jeanne O’Rourke did not “utilize a daily attendance sheet and do not sign in when they arrive for work,” and do not record their actual hours worked.

But Katz and O'Rourke listed on their pay sheets that they worked seven hours a day, even if they worked longer, the report said.

Auditors also questioned LaLota's and Katz's practice of having their time sheets approved by subordinates who might not be able to monitor out-of-office work or could be “subject to undue influence” to approve the time sheets.

Auditors also recommended that the county legislature adopt an approval process for commissioners’ time sheets. Gregory said he  would review whether the legislature should consider new time sheet rules for commissioners.

Gregory also said he was disappointed the audit was “just a paper review” that did not look into LaLota’s law school attendance and check it against his time sheets.

“If he is not in the building, the question is, where is he?” Gregory said.

LaLota did not make an official response to the audit. In an interview, he said the “audit did not contradict what I have sworn on my time sheets and I worked the 70 hours every two weeks reduced by my allotted vacation, sick and personal time.”

Katz, in a written response, said there was no legal requirement to use daily attendance or sign-in sheets or to record specific hours worked.

 She said the process for time sheets, certified by subordinates, was recommended by former civil service Commissioner Alan Schneider because of the subordinates' proximity to the commissioners.

“I take my responsibilities … very seriously and understand the importance of accurate time accounting,” Katz said. "When I certify my time accounting, I am accurately reflecting the hours I worked.”

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