PORT HENRY — Port Henry's new mayor is promising to revamp the village's financial practices, including addition of a full set of checks and balances.Presiding over his first Village Board meeting Monday night, newly sworn-in Mayor Gary Cooke said financial accountability will be part of the way Port Henry is run from now on.The March 20 arrest of Village Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Tesar on charges of stealing from village cash receipts forced the budget process to start from scratch and threw village government into crisis-management mode, but Cooke said things are beginning to straighten out."Maybe it's an opportunity," he said. "We can get it (the budget) done and get it done right."The amount of money Tesar allegedly took is unknown, but State Police say it is between $3,000 and $50,000. A forensic audit of village books is expected to begin soon to determine the exact amount.The missing money was discovered when discrepancies were noticed in village financial records that Tesar handled."We confronted Barbara," Cooke said. "It's a tragedy. We're going to have to focus on fixing it."
The village will now split off the appointed offices of clerk and treasurer, Cooke said, with Erin Gilbo named as treasurer at an annual salary of $20,280. She will also serve as acting clerk until someone new is appointed to that position.Tesar's term expired Monday, and since she was not reappointed, that ends her employment with the village. She had been on sick leave since the beginning of March.Gilbo is an accountant who previously worked for financial institutions in the area.
One of Cooke's first acts was to appoint Robert Thierry to fill his seat on the Village Board. Cooke was a trustee and had to resign that post before being sworn in as mayor.Thierry, a businessman who owns a marina in Port Henry, will fill the last year of Cooke's unexpired trustee term.Cooke praised Thierry as "introspective and imaginative. Bob Thierry will do a tremendous job."Also recently appointed is Trustee Linda DuRoss, who will fill the last year of Mary Ann Saunders's term. Saunders died while in office. DuRoss has been on the board previously."It was an opportunity to come back," DuRoss said. "I'll do the best job I can do."Cooke immediately appointed her deputy mayor."This is probably historic," Cooke said. "I don't know if so many people have changed seats in such a short period of time."Everybody has a lot of energy. The people at this table want us to advance."The Village Board will hold workshops later this month to finish the annual budget, Cooke said, and a public hearing will be scheduled.State law says the budget hearing must be held by April 15 and the new budget approved by May 1.