QUEENSBURY — A special prosecutor is looking into a misconduct complaint about Supervisor John Strough regarding the way he handled a scathing state audit last year.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigation unit looked into the situation this summer in response to a complaint made by Councilmen Doug Irish and Brian Clements. Both said Strough intentionally lied and misled the board about an audit.
After the investigation, they turned it over to the District Attorney’s Office to consider prosecution. It was sent on to the Albany District Attorney’s Office to avoid any conflict of interest, Sheriff Bud York said.
At the time, Irish and Clements kept the complaint secret. But when the Queensbury Democratic Committee filed a complaint against Irish, Irish made public the complaint he filed this summer against Strough.
Strough may have committed official misconduct when he lied to the Town Board about an audit of grant paperwork, Irish wrote in his complaint to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.
“We certainly are not police officers, lawyers or judges but do believe there has been malfeasance committed by Supervisor Strough and wish to file a formal complaint and ask that your office investigate and determine if any crime has been committed with regard to the withholding of information and the public statements made by Supervisor Strough which clearly were made to mislead both the Town Board and the public,” Irish wrote. “At a minimum we would expect this to be a violation of the Public Officers Law and potential official misconduct in his capacity as town supervisor of the town of Queensbury.”
The letter was signed by Irish, Clements and resident Doug Auer. It was dated June 7, the same day that Irish told The Post-Star that he wanted to focus on how to avoid the problems noted in the audit, rather than focusing on criticizing Strough.
Strough said he had not lied when he told the board that the state was happy with the new process for documenting grant work.
“We did work it all out,” he said.
But he never told them about the audit that criticized the town before he worked it out.
The audit was performed by the state in 2015, regarding grants for the Lake George Watershed Coalition. Queensbury had sponsored a number of those grants, but the officer in charge of them, Coalition Director David Decker, sent in unacceptable documentation. He couldn’t document $1.49 million in in-kind work, which was required for one grant. Also, no one ever verified that work by contractors had been done and no one required documentation before paying them. The town did not even notice when it paid more than it agreed to in contracts.
“The town neglected their fiduciary duties,” the audit said.
The audit was sent to Strough’s office on Oct. 20, 2015, asking for his official response. Strough interpreted that to mean that it was a draft, awaiting his reply. The town never got the final version of the audit, and Strough never mentioned it at public meetings. He said he would’ve given the final draft to the board.
Nine months later, Town Board members asked about the audit. They knew auditors had been looking at town records, but not what the state had concluded.
Decker was at that meeting in August 2016, and he answered the question.
“We passed the audit,” he said.
Strough did not contest this. Instead, he emphasized the state auditors had looked at every detail before determining the town was not at fault. They discovered the state was at fault, he said.
“We said to the state, ‘You’ve got to improve things going forward,’” he said.
None of the board members asked to see the audit.
But the audit did not find fault with the state. It said that Queensbury was at fault and directed Strough to write a description of the steps the town would take to “responsibly manage Department of State contracts.”
Strough responded by saying he would meet with state officials and the leaders of Bolton and the village of Lake George to discuss how to comply with grants in the future. That meeting occurred, and Strough walked away believing everything was resolved. The state started processing grant payments again.
Then, in March 2017, Decker was arrested on charges of fraud. He is accused of falsifying paperwork and using an invented company to siphon money from grants while director of the coalition. That’s when the Town Board began to look more closely at the audit and other documents that could have revealed theft earlier, if anyone had been checking on Decker.