ONEIDA — Mayor Helen Acker shed some light on what’s been happening at the city chamberlain’s office and what it means for the future of Oneida. At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, Acker spoke before the regular meeting on the issue.
“I know there have been concerns from many of you about the city chamberlain’s office, and there have been many questions,” Acker said. “I wanted to offer some clarification.”
The mayor said she could not speak on the details of the investigation, as the case was currently ongoing, and she didn’t want to jeopardize anything that the state comptroller’s office was doing.
“I’ve spoken with the state comptroller’s office about what I can say to the public at this point,” Acker said. “So I’ll give you a timeline.”
While Acker was on the city council in 2012, it was brought to the council’s attention that delinquent taxes were owed, dating back to 2007.
Acker said the delinquent taxes were brought to the council’s attention by the city comptroller, who asked the city council to look into the matter and seek what was owed.
“For some reason, this wasn’t done,” Acker said. “I and my fellow councilors continued to ask, but nothing was done as far as we know.”
Acker said that the city chamberlain answers to no one but the Oneida taxpayers as an elected position. “The mayor, nor the common council can tell them what to do or how to do their job. So there’s no accountability.”
Acker continued, saying she addressed the matter with the city council when it came to her attention that people in the city claimed they paid their taxes but were still listed as unpaid.
“They were very upset with this, and I asked them to bring in their paid receipts,” she said. “Most of them did and showed proof.”
Acker brought this to the attention of the chamberlain and then brought it to the city’s legal team, who recommended a forensic audit. As a result, the Common Council approved hiring a forensic accounting firm that did an independent audit. In early 2021, Nancy Andrews left her position as Oneida city chamberlain on medical leave.
“When the audit was done, the information was given to our legal team,” Acker said. “They recommended we bring it to the Madison County District Attorney’s Office. Madison County reviewed it, and the matter was referred to the State Comptroller’s Office. And that’s where it is now.”
As a result of all of this, the city council has made changes. A new software system has been implemented with an enhanced security system.
“Our internal controls are now a three-person security control with a check and read system with reports that must match up every single day,” Acker said.
According to the mayor, this will be a lengthy investigation, and that she has given out all the information she’s allowed.
But changes are coming to the chamberlain’s office to provide a series of checks and balances.
“Next year, I’ll be bringing forward a public referendum to change the city charter to remove the position of chamberlain as an elected position,” Acker said. “I’ll be recommending the position of ‘tax collector.’ This person will be hired by the city and not be elected. This way, we will have accountability.”
“It’ll be a long process, but I believe it’s a much better way for our taxpayers — checks and balances.”