A Warrenton resident is conducting a petition drive to have the city audited by the state auditor.
City officials, meanwhile, are frustrated by the expense to the city to cover the audit and also question the resident’s intent.
Stan Shelton informed city officials at last Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting that the petition drive was beginning and that 417 signatures are needed for the audit to be performed. The estimated cost to have the audit performed is between $50,000 and $65,000, Shelton said.
He first announced his desire to have the city audited by the state at the April 17 meeting.
Shelton has criticized a decision to grant employment contracts 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. That was the same evening a new mayor and two new aldermen were elected to the board.
The contracts were proposed by then-Mayor Greg Costello, who said Thorn and Houdyshell had been targeted for termination by mayoral candidate and eventual winner Jerry Dyer. 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.
If they would be dismissed without cause, each would receive severance pay equal to a year’s salary. Under the terms of the contract, if either employee is discharged for cause, they would not be entitled to severance pay.
Shelton also has questioned the city paying $791,170 for 7 acres located behind the Warrenton Cinema 8 in 2007. That was the intended location for the proposed indoor recreation facility, but two half-cent sales tax proposals were defeated by voters in November 2008 and April 2012.
“I just want to make sure we are not having any fraud going on in the city,” Shelton told The Record. “If the contracts were not offered to the two department heads last month, I don’t know if I would have done it. It sure looked bad.”
He said he gave the state auditor’s office information for areas to review within the city’s records, but declined to release those to The Record.
That also has left city officials wondering why Shelton is not willing to identify areas where he has concerns.
Ward 1 Alderman John Cornell said he has approached Shelton and made it known that a copy of the city’s last audit was available for review.
“He had no interest in seeing that,” Cornell stated. “I’m not questioning a motive, but I’m concerned we are going to go to the level we are without answering the questions or remedying those concerns with information that is already available. I have not been able to get any expression of what information he is seeking through this audit other than something doesn’t smell right.”
Ward 2 Alderman Beth Kendall disputes why an audit is needed after the city received a clean audit and received zero recommendations from auditors.
“I want the public to be aware it will cost,” Kendall said. “it will be the city’s funds, taxpayers’ funds, paying for the audit when we had a clean audit in our most recent audit. It’s my tax dollars as well as theirs.”
Once the 417 signatures are collected, the completed petition would be sent to the state and then forwarded to the county clerk, according to Shelton. Once the signatures are verified and ruled valid, he said the state would then be able to start the audit.