An attempt to force an audit of the city of Warrenton cleared the first hurdle according to the city resident who is spearheading the effort.
Stan Shelton informed city officials that he and three others had collected close to 617 signatures, easily surpassing the required number of 417 to have the state auditor perform a review of the city’s finances.
Shelton made the public comments at Tuesday night’s board of aldermen meeting.
Shelton said the petition will be turned over to the state auditor’s office this week. From there, the petition will be forwarded to the county clerk to verify and rule that the signatures are valid.
Once that is completed, the state could then begin the audit.
The estimated cost of the audit is between $50,000 and $65,000 according to officials.
Shelton informed city officials at the May 15 board of aldermen meeting that he was beginning the petition drive. About half of the 617 signatures were collected since June 8.
Shelton said Tuesday he enjoyed meeting with residents during his petition drive. He said most residents were happy to sign the petition. However, he said city employees had a different reaction.
“City employes are scared to death for their jobs,” Shelton remarked. “They are saying no way we are going to touch that. Spouses would say my husband works for the city and if I sign it, there is a chance they may fire him over it. That is a sad situation. Employees are scared. They have the freedom of this country to sign this petition and it could cost them their jobs.”
City officials did not respond to Shelton’s comments.
Shelton also explained why he didn’t accept an invitation from Ward 1 Alderman John Cornell to review city records or last year’s audit that gave the city a clean report and no citations or recommendations for improvements.
At the prior board meeting on June 5, Cornell had questioned Shelton’s attempt to have the city audited.
“The main reason I did that, it’s like offering me to do brain surgery,” Shelton said. “I would do it, but the patient would die. I am leaving the audit up to auditors.”
Shelton previously said he was prompted to seek the state audit once employment contracts were granted to Director of Operations/Finance Officer Terri Thorn and Police Chief Greg Houdyshell, a decision that was made during a closed session meeting held on April 3. The contracts were proposed by then-Mayor Greg Costello, who said both city employees had been targeted for termination by mayoral candidate and eventual winner Jerry Dyer. The contracts were approved and signed on the same evening Dyer and two new aldermen were elected.
Thorn and Houdyshell, the two highest paid city employees with annual salaries of $79,536.06 and $64,890 respectively, are the only city employees who have employment contracts.
Under the terms of the contract, if either employee is dismissed without cause, they would receive a severance equal to a year’s salary. According to the contract, if either employee is discharged for cause, they would not be entitled to severance pay.
Shelton also has been critical of the city’s decision to spend $791,170 for 7 acres located behind the Warrenton Cinema 8 in 2008. The land was purchased for a proposed indoor recreation facility, but two half-cent sales tax proposals to fund the project were defeated by voters in 2008 and again in 2012.