City Checkbook: Developers Get Grants Without Public Scrutiny - The city has been awarding Community Development Block Grant funds to upscale retail projects. Check out our map of business grants.

City Checkbook: Political Spending - City resources have been used to produce ads funded by political funds. Taxpayer and political funds have also mixed at events.

City Checkbook: Food, Swag and Gifts - Taxpayer dollars have been used for questionable giveaways. Checks for meals and souvenirs indicates some excessive spending.

The City of Rochester has a budget of $526 million. Much of that spending takes place out of the public view. There are no line items in the annual budget book for expenditures such as catered lunches or baseball tickets. City Council doesn’t vote on all business grants and loans.

A good way to examine spending is to obtain the city checkbook registry. Through open records requests, we analyzed the city’s checkbook registries for the final years of the Robert Duffy and Tom Richards administrations, as well as all four years of Lovely Warren’s first term.

This process took months, as the registries contain a combined total of nearly a million checks. We flagged about 150 expenditures and filed open record requests for further information, such as invoices, receipts and contracts. 

Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent. They have a right to expect prudent use of tax dollars. They have a right to demand the highest ethical standards. Transparency is the best means to accomplish these goals.

As a result of our analysis, we recommend:

  • The Attorney General or Monroe County District Attorney should conduct a full investigation into the use of city resources for political advertisements and events.
  • The city should develop and implement of strict internal policies separating politics from City Hall activities.
  • City Council should sign off on Community Development Block Grant awards of more than $10,000.
  • All grants and loans should be easily accessible on the city website.
  • City Council should receive monthly or quarterly reports on smaller-dollar spending.
  • The city should tighten its rules for food and swag purchases.
  • The city checkbook register should be posted online, complete with the memo for the reason behind the purchase.
  • The city should consider an elected Comptroller position.

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