Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Syracuse city auditor, has recently called for a debate against incumbent Democrat Marty Masterpole.
Hawkins and Masterpole are the only two candidates vying for the position.
“The work of the city auditor affects all the serious problems Syracuse faces, such as high poverty, failing infrastructure, and struggling schools,” Hawkins stated. “These issues, and others, are impacted by the limited fiscal resources of the city.”
Hawkins has continually pointed out that Masterpole has only conducted four audits per year in his current role as city auditor, while, prior to his election, city auditors conducted about ten audits per year.
In addition, Hawkins said Masterpole hasn’t used the city’s budget effectively, in order to produce the few audits he has conducted.
“First of all, it’s not just that he’s produced less,” Hawkins stated. “It’s less than the city budget expects. City Council expects eight financial audits, and three special projects per year. And, he hasn’t come close to that. The city budget gives him money to hire four people, plus a summer intern, and he’s only hired three people, counting himself. He’s just not meeting the basic expectations that the city council gave to the city auditor’s office.”
In response, Masterpole has said publicly that, as a result of his office having fewer employees than prior auditors, he has produced more “quality” audits during his tenure, although fewer in “quantity.”
Specifically, Masterpole has noted his office conducted a health care audit in 2012, saving the city millions in medical benefits for its employees, and a Greater Syracuse Landbank audit in 2015, in cooperation with the office of the county comptroller.
However, according to Hawkins, problems still persisted.
“Well, the health care audit, they had to hire the old budget director as a consultant; they couldn’t do it in-house,” Hawkins stated. “The audit itself was fine, and it did save money, because they did not hire a professional. The staff the person Masterpole hired had been a custom service sales representative, so, they could not do it in-house. The Landbank audit, they did that with the county comptroller, and it looks to me like the comptroller did most of the work. They have an even bigger staff at the county level.”
According to Hawkins, should he be elected to the position, he would conduct additional audits to assess the effectiveness of the city’s current programs and policies in order to address its problems, such as the fiscal impact of school receivership on the city’s schools, over a long period of time.
“There are higher priorities,” he said. “For example, what’s the fiscal impact of school receivership? The money goes with students to the charter schools, and the school district is left with the legacy costs, and the cost of staff pensions. Can it survive?”
Hawkins also said low voter turnout has been a cause for the wrong candidates to end up in city offices.
Voter turnout in Syracuse has been chronically low and trending downward for years, he stated, with turnout for the 2013 city election totaling only 24 percent, the lowest in 50 years.
“All of us should be concerned that nonvoters are likely to win by a landslide unless more attention is brought to this year’s city election,” Hawkins said.
Masterpole reportedly has said he would debate Hawkins, provided the debate is hosted by a media outlet, or an independent organization.
He was not immediately available for comment on the matter.