Fired auditor was already on chopping block

City Comptroller Mark Schroeder said Friday he decided a month ago to replace Darryl McPherson as chief city auditor over his conducted related to work issues, but decided to give him time to find another job and conclude several ongoing audits.

“All that changed yesterday,” Schroeder said, when he was told by a supervisor in his office that he had witnessed McPherson using his cell phone to take inappropriate photos of a female staff member. Investigative Post and WGRZ, 2 On your Side, broke the story Thursday.

McPherson was present  when the accusation was leveled, the comptroller said.

“He didn’t deny it whatsoever and he suggested he made a very serious mistake and that he needs to do something about it,” Schroeder said.

At that point, “He was terminated with cause. Period. The end.”

The incident wasn’t an isolated case, Schroeder said.

“The week before, two other employees saw him do the very same thing,” Schroeder said. “We have three witnesses.”

The comptroller said the female employee targeted “wasn’t aware at all” of McPherson’s activity. When told, Schroeder said, “She was she was in shock. She was in disbelief. She had no idea.”

McPherson on Thursday maintained that his dismissal was not related to cell phone photography, but was rather a mutual parting of the ways.

“This came down to Mark and I were not on the wavelength and it was best if we didn’t continue to work together,” McPherson told Investigative Post.

Schroeder said Friday, however, said unprofessional conduct prompted his decision a month ago to remove McPherson once he had wrapped up work on several ongoing audits and found another job.

“I wanted to give him flexibility,” Schroeder said.

The comptroller said he informed McPherson of his decision on July 3 and said he cited three reasons.

They included what Schroeder considered an act of insubordination days earlier – meeting with a commissioner without permission.

“I will not allow anyone to freelance up here in this office,” he said.

Schroeder also cited McPherson’s inability to perform his duties that same week representing the department at a disciplinary hearing “because of the condition he was in.” Schroeder said he was told by several department employees in attendance that McPherson appeared intoxicated.

Furthermore, Schroeder said he wanted the audit division headed up by a certified public accountant; McPherson is an attorney.

McPherson said Friday that Schroder had, in fact, told him last month that he would be relieved of his duties in the near future.

“That was the original agreement that we had,” he said.

He said his pending dismissal was related at the time to the comptroller’s upset with what he considered an act of insubordination. The issue of his alleged intoxication was not discussed, McPherson said.

“This is the first I’m hearing about anything like that,” he said.

McPherson has a history of alcohol problems. He  was convicted of driving while impaired 12 years ago and again in 2007. In August 2010, he pleaded guilty to aggravated driving while intoxicated after being arrested that February in Lancaster with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit. He was fined $1,500 and ordered to continue counseling.

When asked Friday if he had a problem, McPherson said, “Yes.”

Was it related to his cell phone use or drinking?

“It’s not related to alcohol,” he said.

Schroeder said he is following through with his plan to hire a CPA to succeed McPherson and hopes to have a successor in place within eight weeks. In the meantime, he has appointed James Barrett, a principal auditor who has worked in the comptroller’s office for 30 years, as interim chief auditor.

McPherson began his City Hall career in 1994 as an assistant corporation counsel and worked for ten years under Mayor Anthony Masiello. He then served as chief legal counsel for the city’s financial control board for 2 1/2 years before being hired as chief auditor in 2007. He was making $86,685 at the time of his termination.