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City Council, May 14

Another fractious meeting
Mayor’s office to be audited
Marc Knapp

Council last night voted unanimously for an audit of expenditures by the Mayor’s office and a report back to Council in 60 days. Council member Griffin, who spoke of abuses by the Mayor and his wife, made the request, or more accurately, the no-holds- barred-demand.

Council member Griffin’s request came toward the end of the Council session. An executive session was scheduled and was simply labeled to “receive advice regarding a personnel matter”. The Council member stated that he had spoken to Legal and that the issue could be discussed openly at Council – and it was.

Business cards were the first issue. The Mayor’s wife had business cards with her name and that of the Mayor, and also the logo of the City. Council member Griffin wanted to know who authorized and paid for these cards. He wanted an audit of the spending by the Mayor’s office to see if there had been other items that had not been properly authorized.

The Mayor was subdued in his response though passionate in defense of his wife. He spoke at length of her dedication to working with City and particularly the poor and homeless, and the help she gave the Mayor in fulfilling his duties. He drew frequently on the Bible as he defended his actions.

No Council member rose to criticize Sandy Tecklenberg and some acknowledged her contribution. But the character of Sandy Tecklenberg was not the issue. As it transpired when the discussion moved on, it was the disregard of City policy by the Mayor who as the leader of City, needed to adhere to the strictest standard.

To us, the issue of the business cards was minor from a financial perspective. We are not sure of the cost but over the tenancy of the Mayor, it was probably only a few hundred dollars. What we think was important was the impression conveyed that the Mayor’s wife of officially executing City business. Council members made this point. But other points were made, particularly by Council member White. Although the Mayor may reimburse the City for his wife’s expenses on a trip, the City made the travel arrangements and bookings. Also, the Mayor’s wife often drove the Mayor’s City-provided car. These things were not allowed by City policy.

None of the transgressions of the Mayor were deemed illegal, at most were marginally unethical. But as some Council members pointed, it was very bad judgment from somebody who should be setting an example.

And then there was the issue of transparency. Council member Waring noted the difficulties in balancing the budget for 2019 and the Mayor's request – rejected by Council – to hold back a 4% pay rise for City workers until mid year. Unbeknown to Council members, the Mayor’s staff were given pay raises that were much larger and in some cases exceeded 20%.

Was Council’s action excessive? We don’t think so. If the Mayor’s record were unblemished, we might think so. But the record is not unblemished.

  • There was the court judgment of a year or so ago, when the Mayor borrowed money from a trust he was managing on behalf of an aged person. The person suffered no loss but what he did was unlawful. He pleaded ignorance but in our view, the plea was not credible. The Mayor was a realtor and considering the exams that need to be passed to get a license, he should have been very mindful of fiduciary responsibilities.

  • The sale of the School of Law property to a developer who sought to build a 250-room hotel. The City sold the property to the school for a small sum and waived its right to buy back the property through the “reverter” clause. Some Council members claimed that they would never have agreed to the waiver of the clause and the subsequent profit split if they had been given all the details.

  • The attempt to not reappoint Judge Morrison to the Circuit Court but to replace him with the wife of a political supporter. Council was not consulted on the proposed action and when it came to Council, the Mayor apologized and agreed to reinstate the judge. And up until that of last night, the City Council meeting was the most heated we have witnessed

It was late at night and it was hard to hear exactly what was the motion finally approved. It certainly included the audit but it may have gone further in relating to car usage and allied matters. We’d note that Council members Shahid and Jackson tended to support the Mayor during the discussion, with Council members Griffin, White, and Moody conspicuously hostile. And indeed, was a vote necessary? Above the melee, we thought we heard the Mayor say before vote that he would call for the audit requested

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