PARISH – The current Parish Town board is taking town’s past supervisor, Mary Ann Phillips to court, demanding the return of approximately $2,000 they say Phillips inappropriately paid herself for keeping the paychecks flowing and the town’s books in order for six weeks after the official bookkeeper/payroll clerk quit in response to the town board’s call for hiring a comptroller to take her place.
I asked Mary Ann Phillips why should the town board deserve that money?
“They shouldn’t,” she replied, “but they don’t care. They did not give me permission to pay myself. It was after the third pay period that I called AOT (the Association of Towns) and found out that I had to move the funds to the Budget Officer line. And when I asked the board members (for permission to do that) at the next meeting, which would have been the fourth pay period, they said no. So, at that point, I couldn’t pay myself anymore for the last six (pay periods) that I worked. But they think they deserve the other three back. So, they’re taking me to Small Claims Court. I have no idea what’s… I have never been to court, so I have no idea where it’s going to go.
How were you expected to be paid for keeping the books and doing the payroll then?
“What the board had to do,” Phillips explained, “according to AOT, was transfer the money from the bookkeeper and payroll clerk’s line to the Budget Officer line. That’s me. Once it’s in that line, then I can put in that I’m getting paid for those positions. But when they voted no, they wouldn’t allow me to transfer it, then I was stuck. So, I couldn’t after that.”
She never got paid for six other pay periods.
“They did not want me to get paid,” Phillips said. “In fact Doug Jordan said at that meeting, ‘I think you get paid too much anyway.’
“Once she (the former bookkeeper/payroll clerk) resigned, somebody had to do the work,” Phillips said. “Well, there wasn’t anybody else that knew the bookkeeping. I knew some of it but not all of it. And the payroll, I knew all of that because I did that with Samantha (the former bookkeeper/payroll clerk) every other week. Nobody else could do it. So, I had to do it. I had to step up and do it. They didn’t care. They wanted me to hire a payroll company, and I said, ‘No way. We just paid, I think it was $2,000 to $4,000 for the payroll (computer software) program through Williamson Law.’
“We brought it in-house so that we could do it in-house and not have to pay somebody else to do it. So, I had to pick up the ball and do it. Otherwise, nobody would’ve got paid.”
Phillips said she tried to hire a new bookkeeper, but no one would take the job.
“I put it out through the town supervisors of Oswego County in an email and it was advertised as well,” she said. “Nobody was going to apply. I had one girl apply, and then she never came for the interview.”
What did the board base the no vote on?
“Because it was me,” Phillips replied. “They wouldn’t approve it because it was going to go to me. They just said, no, they wouldn’t allow me to move the money.
Phillips said she told the board, “Common sense, somebody needs to do it, and if somebody was in there, somebody would be getting paid the bookkeeper and payroll clerk money. Since nobody’s in there and I have to do it, I think I should be paid for that.”
Phillips said her time “went from maybe four hours a day to nine to five, because I had to learn the bookkeeping part, I had to close the books every month, I had to reconcile statements before I could do any of the board reports, and I had to have a lot of help on that. Thank God Williamson Law has people that were willing to work with me and help me. One supervisor from another town and his bookkeeper came to help me as well, but otherwise, I had nobody. And I had to do the work, otherwise the checks wouldn’t have been cut if I didn’t do them. Nobody else knows how to do it. And at the same time, the bookkeeping, I didn’t have anybody that knew municipal accounting that could do it. So, I was stuck.”
“The money’s there (to pay the bookkeeper/payroll clerk),” Phillips noted. “It was budgeted the year before. Somebody would have been paid per usual and got the money. So, it isn’t like the taxpayers were hurt, not at all. The money was budgeted for it in the bookkeeper and payroll clerk lines, but the board had to give me permission to move it over to the Budget Officer line, which is me, supervisor, and then I could put it in so that I could get paid. And they just said no, we’re not going to do it.”
Did they (the councilors) get paid?
“Yes, councilors get paid $4,000 a year,” Phillips said. “They get paid monthly. The people who are there full-time, like the Highway Department, get paid every other week.”
She paid the members of the board every month. “I was just cutting the checks per usual. Whoever needed to get paid, I paid them.”
Regarding the court case: she can’t countersue. She’d have to have filed against the board within 90 days of not being paid. But there is no time limit on when the board can choose to sue her.
“I want the people to know this,” Phillips said. “I want the public to know this, what happened and why. Common sense would have said whoever’s doing the job gets paid. They don’t do it for free. It doesn’t matter who it is. But in this case, it did. It’s all political and personal. I don’t believe I was wrong.
“I hope the case goes in my favor, but if it goes against me, I still want the people to know what they did and what happened and why it happened,” Phillips said.
If the judge rules against her, she said, “I’m going to appeal. I’ve been told that. My lawyer, Tim Fennell, didn’t tell me that, but other people have told me, ‘Mary Ann, you don’t have to accept his decision. If it goes against you, you can appeal.’”
Jim Bernys is the Parish town supervisor and voted with members of the board to initiate the lawsuit against Mary Ann Phillips. I asked him why he felt this was the best course of action.
“I voted yes because the facts were before me,” he said, “and I believed that it was done wrongfully, not intentionally, but it was definitely not something you were supposed to do, according to multiple sources.”
This could go on and on all the way through appeals.
“Yes,” he said, “and if so be it, then that’s where we’re at. Unfortunately, the majority board thought that the taxpayers deserved to get this money back, and we decided to pursue that. Unfortunately, it’s news. We’ll see what the courts say.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way it is,” Bernys concluded. “We’re just protecting the taxpayers, and the board chose to do what they are about to do. It is what it is.”
Robert Genant, town attorney for Parish, will be representing the town against Phillips in this case.
He appeared, along with Tim Fennell and Mary Ann Phillips, in Oswego City Court before the Hon. Thomas A. Reynolds on Sept. 14.
After holding some discussions in chambers with the two attorneys, Reynolds ordered “the attorneys to present in briefs, their arguments regarding the issues of the law.”
He ordered briefs submitted by Oct. 19 with all parties next appearance in Oswego City Court scheduled for Oct. 26.