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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

DiGiacinto Demonstrates Wisdom of Bethlehem Voters' Controller Pick

When the dust had settled, Republican Meg Holland was elected controller by Bethlehem's heavily Democratic voters over Dave DiGiacinto, even though he outspent her about three to one. But from Bethlehem PA Politics, our latest local poliblog, we learn that her vanquished foe does not go gentle into that good night. A victim of sour grapes, he rages, rages against the dying of the light.

He's hoppin' mad that Meg Holland did not run as Margaret Mary Holland, and wants DA John Morganelli to arrest her or something. Good luck with that one, Dave! By the way, Dave, Bethlehem is in Lehigh County, too. So if you want her executed, the person to ask is the state AG. I'm sure Corbett will hop right on it. Bonusgate can wait.

So what's Meg, 'er Margaret May, doing? At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Bethlehem Controller Holland announced an ambitious and detailed first year agenda in a four-page news release. Instead of summarizing it, you should read it yourself. It reveals a consummate professional who takes her job seriously. Voters got this one right.

1. Hire a Deputy Controller - In December 2007 I instructed Jean Zweifel, Director the Human Resources, to put an advertisement for the Deputy Controller position in the newspaper and on Career Builder. I also informed Daryl Yothers (the former Deputy Controller) that I would consider him for the position if he submitted an updated resume to Human Resources. I received approximately 40 resumes from interested applicants for the position. The majority of the applicants were extremely qualified for the position. I narrowed down the 40 applicants to 10 and interviewed them with Ms. Zweifel. Several applicants were willing to take dramatic decreases in salary from their present employment. I hired Eugene Auman on Sunday, January 13, 2008 for the position. Mr. Auman was Vice President of Finance and Administration of Valley Youth House, has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Perm State University and is also certified in human resources. Mr. Auman brings with him over 20 years of financial, managerial and administrative experience with non-profits and governmental entities, particularly in budget preparation, fiscal reporting and contract monitoring.

2. Attend monthly pension board meetings and review reports - As required, I will personally attend the monthly pension board meetings. I attended my first meeting in November 2007 and reviewed all financial reports, actuarial reports, and investment and performance reports with respect to the city's pension funds. I will summarize my review of the aforementioned documents in the coming weeks.

3. Establish fraud deterrence and prevention practices - I will enact several fraud deterrence and prevention practices, including: an anonymous telephone"integrity and humility" tip line, personnel manuals, cash handling procedures, computer access and Internet controls, telephone controls, etc. I will also introduce IDEA software to enhance the current accounting systems and establish routine queries of the city's databases to detect any potential fraud for further investigation.

4. Establish purchase order procedures and authorization controls - My department will perform audits and procedures which will work towards resolving the management comment noted by Maher Dussell CPAs (the CPA firm hired to perform the city's financial audit). This management comment has appeared on the audited financial statements for over ten years. My department will instruct the Accounting Department to record purchase encumbrances, immediately. In addition, my department will institute purchase order reviews, as well as, perform an audit of blanket purchase orders for last twelve months. My department will work with the Continual Improvement (CI) team to review purchase order processing and approval in order to eliminate duplication (i.e. six copies of purchase orders are routed after approval process). Any other management comments noted in the auditors['] report will be resolved and procedures will be instituted to prevent future comments regarding internal control weaknesses.

5. Enact record retention policy for the Accounting and Controller's Department - The legal department recently completed a record retention policy(part of their CI projects) for their department and for city contracts, while researching with respect to governmental record retention. My department, particularly the part-time employee, will work with the CI team and the law department to inventory, categorize and shred unnecessary documents that are currently stored on the fifth floor of city hall. For example, through housecleaning of my department we found telephone books from the 1970s, tax books from the 1980s, four scrap books dating back 40 years with newspaper clippings about former Controller, Wally DeCrosta, and the city administration, a painting from Gloucester Massachusetts from 1966 and various other prints and pictures.

6. Enhance the existing database of municipal contracts with the law department - Until now, the details regarding all city contracts were kept manually on contract cards by the Controller's office, while the law department kept contract detail in a database. My department will enhance the contract database with various contract details to enable more efficient sorting to facilitate audits and reviews of the contacts (i.e. vendor information, dollar amounts, department, purpose, length of time, etc.)

7. Review and monitor the budget process - My department will complete a detailed review of the budget process, budget calculations and overhead allocation (by the Accounting Department) and budget monitoring procedures with a comparison of budgeted amounts to actual amounts by category. I will require an explanation of variances by the applicable department and city administration,which may result in adjustments and changes to future budget calculations. My department will obtain comparative municipalities to the City of Bethlehem from Maher Dussell and will perform ratio analysis to determine areas where the city outperforms its comparatives and areas for improvement and further investigation/review. The Deputy Controller will begin reviewing the actual to budgeted financials for year ended December 31, 2007, immediately.

- For 2006, the accrual basis financial statements indicated an approximate profit of $300,000 and the cash basis budgeted financial statements indicated an approximate loss of ($1,600,000).
- After my review of individual line items, I determined that there was $2,000,000 in interdepartmental revenue recorded on the accrual basis financial statements, which was not recorded on the cash basis financial statements because the revenue was not collected as of December 31, 2006. The difference was primarily due to the following interdepartmental revenue items:
- Ambulance fees (outstanding receivables are overdue and the city has a part-time employee/retiree at St. Luke's Hospital collecting the ambulance fees due to the insurance processing)
- Police roster fees
- 911 fees
8. Meet with all departments as to policies and procedures - I or the Deputy Controller will personally meet with all departments to review procedures, policies, any existing manuals, cash handling detail, etc., which will facilitate future audit plans.

9. Review of medical insurance and catastrophic insurance processing - My department will review the medical insurance claims processing procedures and reimbursement of catastrophic medical reimbursements. I have a meeting scheduled for February 11, 2008 with Mike Caruso and Joe Leonard to discuss my questions/concerns.
- The city is currently responsible for catastrophic medical expenses up to $100,000 and up-front expenses over $100,000 and is reimbursed for expenses incurred over the S100,000 threshold. The reimbursements in the past have not been made on a timely basis.

10. Operation and performance audits of departments and other entities (including the entities that are part of the Bethlehem Authority) - My department will perform announced and unannounced operational and performance audits of various departments and entities as determined through my analysis of financial information.

- i.e. the Municipal Golf Course did not make a profit, therefore, my department will review/audit the golf course to make it more efficient (cash collection procedures, increase revenue generation in other ways, etc.)
11. Review purchase policies and procedures as they relate to pricing negotiations - My department will review the purchase policies and procedures related to price negotiations for quantity discounts. This relates to office supplies, equipment, energy and utility usage, insurance, etc. For example, two departments will purchase photocopiers/printers at the same time and not consider grouping the purchase for additional discounts.

12. Meet with Sands-Beth Works representatives to review the host fee contract,revenue generation and computations - I will personally meet with the Sands-BethWorks representatives to review the host fee contract, revenue generation and computations.

- Determine the applicable reporting, collection, gaming requirements and remittance of revenue to the city.
- Determine city collection, reporting, budgeting, projection and spending of revenue with controls.
13. Meet with various other local government controllers to coordinate any efforts with respect to related areas -I will meet personally with other local government controllers (Allentown, Lehigh County, Northampton County, etc.) to coordinate any efforts (i.e. the casino host fees and revenue collection/calculation).
An Express Times account of Holland's busy agenda, including Mayor Callahan's reaction, is located here.
Update: The Morning Call's story is here.


Anonymous said...

I applaud Meg for being proactive. However, can she do some of this? Is it in her power? I do not think No. 12 is possible for her to do.

I think she will have to remember her job limitations when being so ambitious. Her position is not legislative or executive in nature.

I do think she will be good for the City.

DiGiacinto is a sore loser. Many people run and do not use their full or given name.

Bernie O'Hare said...

She can certainly meet w/ Sands for the limited purposes mentioned. It is well within the scope of her function as controller. But she does not set policy. You're right about that.

Anonymous said...

DiGiacinto files a complaint about Holland because of her name? If he really thought that was so important, why did he wait until now? That's just petty.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you don't like Mr. DiGiacinto - maybe he stole your prom date. I was wondering if you even know the man?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:23,

I don't know DiGiacinto or Holland. But a complaint to the DA, directed at Holland because of how her name appears on the ballot? Give me a break! If I knew nothing else about the guy, that alone would convince me to support his opponent.

Anonymous said...

If Stoffa had filed the complaint you would be e-mailing the U.S. Attorney General on his behalf.

Anonymous said...


Re: an issue of concern to me:

I am still 550% pissed off at YOU for "questioning" me as you did NOT return my phone call as promised within a reasonable time frame! I thought much more of you before that conversation which you said that Congressman Dent TRUMPED my phone call to you from his Middle East visit, much to his credit. I know our great Congressman Dent, you and others mentioned here, respect all of you just the same, but I and others who wish to contact you should never be TRUMPED by any other person, including the good Congressman, President of our USA or anybody else. You should be ashamed of your personal comments to me as I apologized to you which I should never have had to do. I have restrained from posting here and may continue to do so as I have lost much respect for you and our stupid phone conversation. My only last note is to say that I always appeared on an electon ballot as Larry , not Lawrence E. or any other name as was my option.

Bernie O'Hare said...


When you called me with your complaint concerning the latest antics at BHA, I promised I'd speak to you later in the week. Of course, I'd try to do so from a land line as opposed to a cell phone bc talking to you on my cell kills my battery and wastes minutes. Five minute calls turn into ninety minute calls. I found that out the hard way.

The one time that I met you in person, I spent about an hour cooling my heels because you were talking to some other folks. Did I complain? No. You warned me I might havce to wait, and i was happy to do so. That's common courtesy.

On a Monday, when you first called about BHA, I could not speak bc I was on my way to a county council reorganization and wanted to see how that played out. I explained that to you. I promised a return call by the end of the week. The next time you called was on Thursday. I was waiting on a conference call from Congressman Dent from the Middle East. I told you I could not talk. I told you why, hoping you'd understand. I did tell you that trumps you, and it does. Later in the day, I called from another line just to let you know I was still waiting. I was trying to be courteous. About an hour after that, you called with some smart remark about not getting back to you yet.

This really blew my mind. It was not yet the end of the week. You knew I was still waiting for an important call. You also know that I happen to have a job, and was trying to do that, too. But you wanted me to drop everything and listen to you repeat the same complaints about Joe Long that you already have made. This is in mid afternoon on a weekday to boot, when some of us need to get things done. Last time I checked, you don't pay my bills.

Did I get angry? Yes. Did I mean it? Yes. Did you apologize? Yes. Did you mean it? Apparently not, or you wouldn't have posted this off topic snark. It makes you look silly, Larry.

Larry, as important as you may think you are, I really wanted to hear about what was going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That call did trump you, and I resent being bullied by you or anyone else. You should know better than to try that on me. You don't set my agenda.

And when I'm waiting for another call from another person, a call that has been pre-arranfged, you don't have the right to butt in and insist that I listen to you. That's common courtesy. And I don't care who the call is coming from.

I can assure you it will never happen again.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If Stoffa had filed the complaint you would be e-mailing the U.S. Attorney General on his behalf.

Only if he invited me to another news conference.

Do you really think Stoffa would do something that stupid? Besides, he wouldn't be the losing party.

Anonymous said...

we are greatly misunderstanding each other other and I'm out of here. best to you always!

I am somebody, so are you, and neither of us is more important than anyone else, including electeds!

you still did zip, recently, as promised, with BHA and Joe Long to date. maybe some day you will do so? larry@kisslinger.com

Anonymous said...


It's your blog....but what on God's green earth does this last discussion have to do with this thread? (If I may ask.)

Just curious.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Not a lot.

Larry K was publicly punishing me for putting him off when I wanted to hear a report from a US Congressman who was calling from Pakistan. The call was beset by technical difficulties, and a 9 AM call turned into a 3 PM call. It was midnight for the poor congressman, who ended up making individual calls to reporters and bloggers. Although I explained this to Larry, he got upset that I kept putting him off, and felt I should have been more responsive to him. I was doing my best.

Larry is a cantankerous bastard like me, was offbase, and will eventually realize it.

Anonymous said...

In the words of LK - "Go figure".

Anonymous said...

While I certainly agree with Holland over Digiacinto, I think Ms. Hooland runs a little heavy to the "I" and "my" instead of the ""the" and "we". She's not going to get this job done by herself, is she?

Just an observation from one who's been there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A fair and constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

Shes not proposing the "I" and "my"...but she's proposing "her department" and she is working with the city... the CI team... the law department... the accounting department.... she just wants to be proactive... much more proactive than anyone has ever been in the Controller's office... it's needed with the changes in the city happening and going to happen in the near future.