(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A St. Joseph city accountant issued a scathing memo this week alleging city employees and elected officials failed to appropriately respond to allegations of bad financial practices and record keeping.
The complaint, emailed to the City Council, Mayor, State Auditor, and the State Auditor’s Chief Investigator, said “nothing meaningful” has been done to fix “well documented” internal control issues and financial concerns raised in August 2019.
Assistant Director of Administrative Services Beau Musser wrote the complaint saying in it he was asking for the State Auditor’s office to get involved because the city and elected officials have not adequately responded to his findings of conflicts of interest, questionable uses of taxpayer funds, and lack of financial accountability.
“After nearly 4 months, nothing meaningful has transpired to fix these problems and worse yet, I was removed from supervising the activities on which I blew the whistle,” according to the memo.
Concerned with some of what he saw, he has notified the City he is requesting a full forensic audit.
Musser first raised concerns about irregularities and inadequate procedures in city sewer bills last year.
During an internal audit, city staff revealed in June that up to 150-200 city sewer customers were not billed for years. The city took over billing for sewer charges from Missouri American Water in 2012. However, in the more than 27,000 accounts they bill each month, some apparently just got lost in the paperwork transfer.
In October, members of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Audit Committee said they were still waiting on an exact number of customers uncharged or undercharged.
Just days apart from the June reveal, Councilman Brian Meyers made a motion to suspend City Manager Bruce Woody for one week without pay. Rules prohibit personnel issues and details from being released to the public so why the motion was made is not clear.
But what is known is that a closed-door executive session, council members voted 5-3 against suspending him. Council members Madison Davis, Brenda Blessing, and Myers voted to suspend Woody.
Musser said some city employees were not required, trained or just failed to keep adequate financial records until he started working for the city.
He said it’s those employee problems that were partially to blame for the sewer bill issues.
Musser alleges his review of city operations revealed untrained employees creating potential liabilities including the employee who oversaw the sewer billing operations.
“She had the job for approximately 3 years, and to this day (12 months after I blew the whistle), no detailed written procedures exist for her and her staff to follow,” according to Musser’s complaint.
City Council members’ responses
City council member Brian Myers said in an email response that his initial response to the memo was, “It’s about damn time.”
Myers said that through Musser’s review of city financial and accounting practices he has found issues of mismanagement and misappropriation of city money.
“I know Mr. Musser is concerned that his findings were, in his opinion, not taken as seriously as he would have liked,” Myers said.
Myers said that he is concerned about many of Musser’s allegations and questions.
“In my opinion, we have two sides within City Hall that are in great conflict with one another,” Myers said.
He added that a state audit will settle the dispute and provide answers.
“If Musser’s findings are accurate, we must hold those accountable that have created these issues, and put procedures in place that will provide better accounting practices and oversight,” Myers said. “And if his findings are not accurate, then we put the issue to rest. Either way, we have nothing to lose with a forensic audit.”
In response to whether he had any additional information about Musser’s reference to city council members no paying permit fees or cellphone bills, Myers said no but if true the councilperson needs to pay the city what was owed.
However, he said if proven, he doesn’t believe those council members had bad intentions.
“If true, I don’t feel this was any wrongdoing by individuals on Council; it could be that neither member was presented with an invoice/bill,” Myers said.
Councilman Gary Roach said he doesn’t know anything more than what was emailed to the council by Musser.
“I welcome any and all state audits,” Councilman Madison Davis said. “I cannot comment regarding Mr. Musser due to employment info being private, protected information.”
The State Auditor's office confirmed it has received Musser's complaint and its Public Corruption and Fraud Division are reviewing the allegations. In an email, State Auditor Nicole Galloway's press secretary said these initial reviews are not audits but they may lead to the launch of one.
In the meantime, city councilmembers are meeting for a closed-door executive session about personnel issues raised in the complaint on Friday, Jan. 17. Following Friday's meeting, the city council is set to meet again for a work session the following Wednesday to investigate the allegations line-by-line.
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