City administrator investigation into cashed CDs from 2015 continues.
At the city council meeting on November 19th, city administrator Tommy Turney said that the investigation into the $360,000 in cashed out CDs from 2015 continues.
A motion was carried to bring in Gayla Fullerton, the accountant that has conducted the city’s most recent annual audits, for a fee of $125 per hour. Turney said it makes sense to bring in Fullerton, “She’s done our audits. She has knowledge of the city’s accounts and if we brought in someone else it would take twice as long and cost up to $250 per hour. She can tell us exactly where we’re at and where we need to be.”
It was revealed at the council meeting that Moody’s wants to drop the city’s credit rating by another 2 notches due to the current situation and would like for the city to re-do its audit. The auditor is expected to arrive during the first week in December. The next regular city audit is set for February 2019.
As reported in the newspaper last week, $225,000 in CDs were cashed out for an up-front payment while waiting on a grant. It’s unclear if the grant money was received and if so, where the money went. As councilman Jason Gore pointed out, “If the city spent $225,000 while waiting on a money for a grant and we eventually received that grant money and we don’t know where it went to either then we could be missing $450,000.” As reported, the full total was $360,000 in 3 CDs.
It was revealed that city secretary Bonita Shields set up the CDs and was therefore the only one who was able to cash them out for previous city administrator Bryan Grimes. Grimes took over for former city administrator Tommy New and he was the city administrator until October of 2017. New was in attendance and pointed out to the council that it was the responsibility of the city manager to oversee the finances and budget and should not be put on the shoulders of the city secretary. New said that the city needs to fulfill its charter. The city is reported to have had 7 CDs that were set up during New’s administration and he reportedly left the city in good standing with a surplus.
The main concern for the council and Turney is finding out how and why the CDs were cashed out so easily. Councilman Bob McDaniel said that it should have required council approval and at least 2 signatures. Gore concurred and said that he is deeply troubled over the recent revelations the last 2 weeks. New councilwoman Kristi Brundige-Goetz is also expected better accountability from the city and like McDaniel, wants Turney, who was hired a couple of months ago, to start off with a clean slate.
Turney said that some of the money had been accounted for but that there was still at least $192,583 unaccounted for. And he hasn’t found out anything regarding the grant money so that’s an additional $225,000 at the least.
Another issue was found with the Air-Med helicopter service. Approximately 103 people pay $5 a month for Air-med insurance through the city. It was brought up at the meeting that Air-med claims have not been paid since August. Air-med has claimed that the city is out of grace and the contract has expired so that they will not honor anyone with the insurance who is paying through the city. Turney and Shields said that Air-med is paid monthly and that they have indeed been paid since August. Turney said that they would work to straighten it all out immediately.
The city’s finances are undoubtedly twisted up with accounts not paid, accounts receivable not receiving payments, money being spent without documentation and no quality control or oversight in place. The city charter is central to this and it will be reviewed to see if the city has been following it or just working off their own unwritten and undocumented procedures the last few years.
It was pointed out that there should be a financial update to the council at least once a month and this has not been happening in recent memory. Why it didn’t happen is a question the council and mayor will have to answer and it should become a regular monthly report in all of the future council meetings. The council can’t be expected to make good decisions without knowing how much money they have in the bank or how much money is coming in.
The people of Ballinger pay their taxes and bills and deserve know where the city’s money is being spent and expect transparency that to this point hasn’t appeared.
Turney undoubtedly is the busiest man in the city right now but Ballinger is fortunate to have him at the helm and thus far he has proven to be competent, forthright and believes wholeheartedly in transparency. He has not shirked from his duty or pawned off the problems on others.
Turney has vowed to conduct a thorough investigation to find the problems, fix them and expects 100% accountability. There is no doubt that Turney is capable of following through on his promises to get to the bottom of it all.
McDaniel summed it up astutely when he said, “People perceive these problems (with the CDs and Air-med) as corruption and I’d rather corruption not be our biggest industry in Ballinger.”
Whether the financial woes are due to corruption or just mismanagement and bad decisions is moot at this point. There will be time to focus on the past once the city knows what is going on in the present.
Turney and the council are working to resolve the problems and are spending yet more money for the auditor to come back in and help out. But, it’s money that needs to be spent if Turney and the council are to discover the decisions and actions that led to this financial mare’s nest.
In other council news
Kristi Brundige-Goetz defeated Eloyed Fuentes by a vote of 308 to 198 in the single member district 4 council position and was sworn in by city secretary Bonita Shields.
Bob McDaniel defeated challenger Darlene Brice Kelly 126 to 94 and was sworn in by Shields.
Mayor Sam Mallory, in recognition of his time serving the people of Ballinger on the city council, presented Fuentes with a plaque.
There have been no new developments in the police department’s loan issues. As previously reported, there are 3 loans out, 2 of which chief Stan Maresch knows about. The third one is a mystery but will be investigated while Turney and the auditor are looking into the other financial issues.
Carrie Turney asked to join the park board and wanted to clear it with the council and city attorney since her husband, Tommy, is the city administrator. She and Elaine Plaske from the park board wanted to ensure there was no conflict of interest. The council had no problems with it and neither did the city attorney.
The mayor and city council voted and passed the motion to continue their current salaries. Each councilperson is paid $20 per month and the mayor is paid $40 per month.
Bob McDaniel was appointed mayor pro-tem by mayor Mallory.
The council voted to accept the $10,500 from the county for fire department services. Some years during numerous and large brush fires the amount has fallen short of covering the expenses but during other years of few and far between fires the money has covered any dispatches. Turney suggested that they accept the $10,500 and then if there are any significant events that the money does not cover they will take it up with the county commissioners on a case-by-case basis.
Turney has worked with the adult probation services CSCD to have probationers serving community service hours perform work for the city. The motion was passed by the council without anyone dissenting.
HOWCO was approved as the grant administrator for the $275,000 grant for road and street repairs. According to Turney, “They’ll help write the grant, get the engineering services and administer the grant. It’s a ‘cradle to the grave’ type deal.” The grant application is February 9th.