Tuesday, October 4, 2016

[UPDATED] Feds say fee waivers violated the law

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 3:29 PM

This post has been updated with comments from County Executive and former county Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo, a Republican, as well as former County Clerk Patricia McCarthy, a Democrat.

The County Clerk's Office, under now-County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, violated federal law by waiving passport fees,  says a US Department of State official.

Current County Clerk Adam Bello publicly disclosed the waivers recently, though he wouldn't say who received them. Federal confidentiality laws prevented him from saying who received passport waivers, he said, though in one case 15 members of the same family received the discounts.

Bello reached out to the Department of State for an opinion on the waivers. Jonathan Rolbin, director of the Department of State's Office of Legal Affairs and its law enforcement liaison, sent a letter yesterday to County Attorney Michael Davis informing him of the determination. The Department of State letter (attached below) doesn't say what the county is supposed to do about the waivers, however.  Bello released the letter to reporters today.

Dinolfo issued the following statement this afternoon:

"During my tenure in the Clerk’s Office, concurrent with my record of returning over $30 million to taxpayers, I continued the longstanding policy that spanned over many County Clerk’s administrations of issuing fee waivers as a way to provide high level customer service. Now that the State Department has rendered clarification, it is my expectation that the current County Clerk will abide by them going forward."

Patricia McCarthy, a Democrat who was county clerk from 1985 to 1993, issued a statement Thursday morning that contradicts Dinolfo's. The statement says:

In response to recent assertions by former Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo that the practice of waiving execution fees for passports has been a longstanding tradition dating back to previous administrations, I would like to set the record straight, and unequivocally state waiving fees for certain individuals was not a practice we engaged in during my nine years (1985-1993) as Monroe County Clerk. 

Previously, Bello called on the county attorney to try to reclaim the waived fees. His office also set up a program where people who had fees waived — both for passports and for plastic pistol permit cards — can voluntarily repay them

The passport issue deals with a $25 "execution fee" that people pay when they apply for a passport, according to the letter. Under federal law, passport agents must collect the fee, the letter says. They can keep that fee, which is separate from the general charge for a new passport, but they cannot "grant exceptions," according to the letter.

Bello was appointed to the clerk position earlier this year by Governor Andrew Cuomo. He's currently running for the office and faces a challenge from Greece Town Clerk Cheryl Rozzi.

Michael E. Davis Letter by jmouleatcity on Scribd

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