Fighting words in Mattituck

Park district elections are often sleepy events with a single candidate seeking election or re-election as a commissioner and only a handful of voters casting ballots. Not in Mattituck this year.
Incumbent Nicholas Deegan, a commissioner since 2007, is facing a challenge from 30-year commission veteran Gerard Goehringer Jr., who opted not to seek re-election in 2007 and failed in a bid to return to the board of commissioners last November.
Mr. Deegan took off the gloves this week, charging his opponent with misuse of district funds. That’s just hype, said Mr. Goehringer, who added that he’s simply looking to get back into a post he enjoyed and succeeded in.
Mr. Deegan said the parks board was guilty of “an abuse of the public trust” under Mr. Goehringer’s leadership.
He pointed to an audit of the district’s financial statements for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008, by Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Company P.C., that found “significant deficiencies” in internal controls.
Some district financial records were missing, according to the audit, including logbooks for use of the Bailie Beach lodge, ramp passes and dumpster fees. There was a lack of checks and balances on fiscal matters, including handling of payroll records, the auditors said. Also, they couldn’t find records of cash collections and said cash receipts weren’t secured properly.
But what raised Mr. Deegan’s hackles, he said, were receipts for spending by former commissioners on gasoline and cell phones.
The Suffolk Times has received copies of records showing:
• Multiple cell phone calls in July, August and September 2007 made to a chiropractor’s office in Alexandria, Va.; and calls in the same period to Boston, Mass., to a former commissioner’s family members.
• Citgo gasoline credit card charges made from May through December 2007 and April 2008 that show what Mr. Deegan considers a lot of activity for a park district that spans about 3.5 miles. Some of those records showed purchases by Mr. Goehringer of about five gallons of gas by filling a container several days in a row.
Mr. Goehringer said he had nothing to gain by taking a small amount of gas.
“If I was filling a gas can it was for something for the park,” he said. “Anything I used went straight into the car.”
Mr. Deegan also points to a bill from Elbow East in Southold for $249.35 for dinner for nine people on Dec. 9, 2006. There’s no record of a resolution giving the commissioners permission to charge the dinner to taxpayers, he said.
That was simply a Christmastime dinner for park district employees, said Mr. Goehringer. He said the expense was approved by the board and the district treasurer.
When the audit report was initially released, Mr. Goehringer told The Suffolk Times there were increased costs for gasoline and cell phone use because he and the other commissioners had been traveling more in connection with the construction of the office building at Veterans Memorial Park. Mr. Deegan contends that the certificate of occupancy for that building, showing that work was completed, was issued May 21, 2007, while the gasoline and cell phone bills continued for many months.
Another park district record reveals that while the commissioners spent $4,902 in 2009 for gasoline, commissioners spent $10,313 in 2007 and $11,175 in 2008. Similarly, the amount spent on cell phone use in 2009 was $1,116, while in 2007 it totaled $4,233 and in 2008 $5,326.
Cell phone and gasoline credit cards were discontinued under Mr. Deegan’s administration, he said.
“I would hate to see the district return to that kind of fiscal mismanagement,” Mr. Deegan said.
In response, Mr. Goehringer said, “Let them throw all the daggers they want. It’s all unfounded.”
He said that during his tenure the district built a $160,000 children’s playground at Veterans beach that, thanks to  state grants and volunteer help, cost taxpayers just $90,000.
“We did everything we could to accommodate the people of Mattituck,” he said.
Mr. Goehringer also argues that the current commissioners are taking a risky position in seeking to lease the multi-purpose room at Veterans’ beach as a catering facility.
“These are tax-exempt properties,” he said. “They can’t be rented out that way.”
To do so runs the risk of having the property put back on the town’s tax rolls, said Mr. Goehringer.
Voting takes place at Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday, Nov. 11, between 4 and 9 p.m.
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Tim Kelly contributed to this report.