In an effort to reassure Ulster County residents following the abrupt departure of finance commissioner Burt Gulnick, county executive Jen Metzger released a letter to keep the public abreast of the county’s efforts to salvage the capsized reputation of the department Gulnick leaves behind.
Gulnick’s network access to email services, bank accounts and government financial systems were all curtailed immediately following his resignation. His key cards have been deactivated, his computers, and cell phones have been retrieved. The locks to the commissioner’s office have all been changed, and Gulnick’s physical presence itself in the county office building is no longer welcome. The police officers stationed just across from the elevators and stairwells which climb to upper levels of the county office building are aware of what Gulnick looks like.
No wrongdoing on the part of Gulnick has yet been discovered. He resigned his post last Monday rather than allow himself to be placed on temporary leave following allegations that he may have stolen thousands of dollars in his capacity as treasurer of the Hurley Recreation Association, a private swim club.
Metzger has taken a stance of transparency, outlining in her letter the steps taken to secure access to county funds and the initiation of an independent investigation.
Metzger has also reached out to the maximum authority for investigating all things monetary in New York State, comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, to request a forensic audit of county finances. Elliot Auerbach, Ulster County comptroller for over a decade, is now state deputy comptroller for local government and school accountability
County books are open for review, says Metzger, available to all law-enforcement agencies and forensic investigators, working hand in glove with the district attorney.
In the wake of the unsettling revelations, county manager of payroll Wendy Trojak has resigned her position. Trojak, it may be recalled, was at the center of an “erroneous wire transfer” of approximately a million dollars to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which came to light when an ex-confidential secretary to Gulnick, Heather Mikesh, filed court papers in August 2022 charging employment discrimination, a hostile work environment, harassment and retaliation. The lawsuit singled out Trojak along with Gulnick for treating her in a hostile and discriminatory manner while the County of Ulster turned a blind eye to the unlawful conduct.
This isn’t the only lawsuit. Over the last year and a half, according to Saugerties county legislator Joe Maloney, several women have filed lawsuits against the county and Gulnick. Maloney has argued that information on these cases should be publicly available.
“I have made my concerns public many times concerning the conduct of Mr. Burt Gulnick, and have never gotten any support,” Maloney said, “I think now is the time this county take seriously the access this individual had and get to the bottom of what has been happening and pray that county assets have not been affected.”
Interactions between Maloney and Gulnick have in the past been at times testy. Gulnick had stormed out of a committee meeting on at least one occasion rather than answer questions put to him by Maloney.
Maloney has been on Gulnick’s trail since at least May of last year when the legislator raised concerns about a possible pay-to-play scheme, involving over $10 million in back taxes owed to the county by the propertyowners at 701 Grant Avenue in the Town of Ulster, who, the legislator said, had donated to county executive Mike Hein’s election campaign. Gulnick had been the treasurer of Hein’s campaign. Maloney called for Gulnick to be put on administrative leave while an investigation was initiated.
“Joseph Maloney has been bringing information to the administrative and legislative attention for years demanding actions are taken to protect Ulster County taxpayers against mismanagement of public funds.” said county legislator Laura Petit. “I stand by him and his demand for a state investigation of our entire county financial system in partnership with our county comptroller, March Gallagher, who has been calling for administrative access to all county financial files for years so she can conduct ongoing audits.”
The county executive agrees in principle.
“From my perspective,” says Metzger, “this challenging moment is an opportunity to scrutinize the county’s financial system and internal controls, modernize that system where necessary, and create the level of transparency, accountability and security taxpayers deserve.”