By Dan Murphy
Last year, Yonkers Rising wrote a story about former City Councilwoman Pat McDow and her illegal use of the city’s postage meter for her personal use in the last days of her elected office in December 2011, and also in early 2012 after her term expired. The Yonkers Ethics Board recently released its report, and findings on McDow’s actions, which call for McDow to pay a $3,500 fine to the city and its taxpayers.
The Ethics Board report shows that Inspector General Kitley Covill and the Ethics Board were reviewing McDow’s action before our story ran. The Ethics Board received correspondence from the IG in September 2012, referring the postage matter to the Ethics Board for review.
The Ethics Board met in June of this year and voted to investigate that matter fully and conduct a hearing. That hearing was held July 11, with McDow testifying under oath and without an attorney.
Following is a portion of the Ethics Board report, which details McDow’s actions and the lengths she took to conceal her actions, and her non-believable testimony.
While there were some inconsistencies between Ms. McDow’s testimony and some of the documentary evidence available to the Board, most of these inconsistencies relate to the reasons Ms. McDow offered as to why she took the actions in question. Accordingly, this decision will initially discuss the documentary evidence, and undisputed facts and testimony.
The Undisputed Facts
A. The envelopes:
(1) Those returned as undeliverable
The Sept. 7, 2012 letter from the inspector general attached copies of six hand-addressed letters that the post office had returned to the City of Yonkers as undeliverable. These letters provided the city with the initial evidence that Ms. McDow had used City Council envelopes metered with City Council postage for her private, outside business.
The board and staff examined the originals of these letters. Each envelope was hand-addressed to persons with addresses outside of Yonkers, and metered by the council’s postage meter on Dec. 30, 2011; that date was a Friday, and was the final business day of the former councilmember’s term. At the hearing, Ms. McDow conceded that the handwriting was her own.
On five of these six envelopes, Ms. McDow’s official city address, which was printed onto the envelope, had been covered over with a white label, leaving no return address. On one of the six, the City Council’s address, rather than Ms. McDow’s, had been printed onto the envelope, and was also concealed with a white, blank label.
Each envelope contained two fliers advertising Ms. McDow’s wedding planning and travel agent businesses, and her private business card. The post office’s return stickers for these six envelopes bear dates ranging from 11/28/12.
Also returned to the city as undeliverable were two envelopes containing a constituent mailing addressed to persons within Council District No.1, which had been Ms. McDow’s district. These differ from the envelopes containing the business fliers:
(I) Then-Council Member McDow’s return address appeared, with no label over it;
(II) A label had been used to cover over a bulk mailing imprint, over which appears metered postage dated Dec. 28, 2011;
(III) The constituent addressee name and address were on preprinted labels, stuck to the envelope;
(IV) The envelopes did not contain the business fliers, but rather city business, specifically, a double-sided flier with “A Message from the Majority Leader Patricia D. McDow” on one side, and a list of her “accomplishments” as councilmember on the reverse side.
The post office’s return stickers for these two envelopes both bear the date 2/27/12. No postage stamps appear on any of these envelopes returned as undeliverable.
(2) The unused, empty envelopes:
When Ms. McDow voluntarily appeared for an interview with the inspector general Feb. 27, 2012, she brought with her five boxes of empty, unaddressed envelopes, all of which had been metered with postage using the City Council meter in the amount of 44 cents. These were provided to the Ethics Board for inspection. Each box contains about 400 to 500 envelopes, totaling more than 2,000. About half the envelopes have former Council Member McDow’s official City Hall address as the return address and about half have the City Council return address. None of the envelopes have labels covering the return address. There were two unaddressed envelopes, both sealed, containing the business promotional materials.
The envelopes in four of the five boxes (about 1,500 to 2,000, or 75 to 80 percent) were metered Dec. 30, 2011, the final business day of her term. Those in the fifth box (about 500, or 15 to 20 percent of the total) were metered Jan. 1, 2012, the day after her term expired. One of the boxes also contains 44 envelopes metered Oct. 17, 2011 and 20 metered Oct. 8, 2009, about two years earlier than the others.
On Jan. 1, 2012, a Sunday, City Hall was open for the inauguration of the new mayor and three new councilmembers. No envelopes are dated Dec. 31, 2011. In all, there were at least 2,000 to 2,500 pre-posted envelopes in her home that were never addressed to constituents. When Ms. McDow returned the envelopes to the inspector general, there were no address labels for the constituents included with them. None of these unused envelopes bear a postage stamp.
B. Invoice from Pitney-Bowes:
The city received an invoice from Pitney Bowes’ Purchase Power system for three refills of the account for the City Council’s postage meter (No. 3831693) used by Ms. McDow on Dec. 27, 28 and 30 2011, of $800 each, for a total of $2,400 – enough for 5,454 envelopes at 44 cents per envelope.
C. The summaries of the interviews with the inspector general:
The Office of Inspector General prepared summaries of interviews with Ms. McDow and her former Chief of Staff Charlotte Vinson, on Feb. 27, 2012 and March 6, 2012, respectively. A recording of Ms. McDow’s interview was distributed to members of the board.
Ms. McDow’s Testimony Before Ethics Board
At the hearing July 11, 2013, Ms. McDow was asked about the use of the postage machine, what letters she actually sent out, and related matters. Essentially, her testimony consisted of Ms. McDow stating what her intentions were, in an attempt to explain the above facts.
In summary, Ms. McDow testified as follows: She prepared the envelopes intending to use them to send out a message to her constituents summarizing her accomplishments while on the City Council. She ran approximately 3,000 to 5,000 envelopes through the metering machine. She thought the city would not be charged for the envelopes if they were not used.
She testified that she was unaware the metering machine needed recharging; she believed that her Chief of Staff Charlotte Vinson took care of that for her. She denied going into the City Council offices for more envelopes metering while City Hall was open for the inaugurations on Jan. 1, 2012.
Ms. McDow testified that she did the metering herself, and the envelope stuffing herself. She was hurrying to beat a deadline in the third week of January 2012, when postage would increase, which would render the envelopes useless without additional postage.
An unidentified “mailman” told her to stop sending out envelopes because so many were being returned. She planned to send her official mailings by metered envelopes because Ms. Vinson told her it would be cheaper that way, rather than bulk mailing or using a city contractor that had been retained for doing mailings. She sent about 100 business mailings.
Ms. McDow placed stamps over the metered postage for the envelopes containing her business fliers, based on her view that the city would thereby not be charged for the postage.
Ms. McDow also answered questions about her defaulting on her $780 debt to the Yonkers Parking Authority. She testified that she thought she had paid the debt in full, and, having recently heard from a news reporter that she still owed money, about a week earlier sent the YPA a $50 check – check number IS46. The YPA reported to corporation counsel that Ms. McDow delivered by hand check number IS46 in the amount of $50 on July 12, 2013, the day after the hearing.
In light of the above, the Ethics Board renders the following decision:
Pursuant to §CIA-31(C), the Ethics Board imposes on Ms. McDow a civil penalty of $3,500. An elected official should set the tone for government; a majority leader even more so. The conduct should be at the highest standard. The actions discussed above, no matter the explanation, fall far short of acceptable. The board asks the Office of the Corporation Counsel to take such steps as needed to collect the penalty.” (End of ethics report.)
The vote on the Ethics Board was 6-0.