2011 Person of the Year Announced
We asked, you decided. Introducing your 2011 Person of the Year.
Brentwood resident Maureen Saunders has been named Maplewood-Brentwood Patch's 2011 Person of the Year by its readers.
Saunders has also been selected to be a Greatest Person of the Day by The Huffington Post. The national online publication features a local hero each day who goes after community issues with “creativity and passion.”
Saunders leads a petition drive
Saunders has been a vocal critic of Brentwood's operations. She's attended nearly every city meeting since former city administrator Chris Seemayer pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $30,000 from the city's coffers.
Following Seemayer's plea and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story about some Brentwood firefighters collecting unearned pay, Saunders said she wanted to use her accounting background to see if anything else deserved investigation.
"I thought it warranted taking some action," said Saunders, who lives on Parkridge Avenue.
Saunders, with the help of some other residents, collected more than 1,000 signatures in a couple weeks. It was an overwhelming response, she said.
The goal isn't to create a rift between the public and city leaders, Saunders said. Instead, she said, a state audit could help restore the citizens' faith in their city government.
"To move forward, and regain the trust of the citizens. That was my intention," Saunders said.
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Saunders, 50, was nominated for dedicating "many hours and much emotional energy into keeping on top of the developing scandals in Brentwood city government," noted the Brentwood man who nominated her. "She attended many meetings and didn't hesitate to ask the tough questions of city officials. She walked the streets of Brentwood and visited people in many social settings to get signatures on a petition seeking an independent audit. She has continued to stay on the scene to make our government more transparent, more responsive, and more responsible. What's in it for her? A better home town... what we all want."
It's a recognition that Saunders felt was undue.
"I'm honored that I got the nomination, but I really don't feel like I'm deserving of it," Saunders said. "Our community is so great because of everyone's contributions."
On the right track
In her opinion, the city is already moving in the right direction, Saunders said. She referred to the hiring of city administrator Bola Akande as a positive step in regaining citizens' trust.
She's also happy that the city plans to hire a finance director to add more control over where taxpayer dollars go.
With these two additions, Saunders said a lot of oversight has been added to the city's finances.
"So the (state) audit may turn out to show that we're on the right track," Saunders said. "However, if there's anything that hasn't been uncovered, they'll find it."
Seeking more transparency
While better financial controls have been added since Akande's hiring, Saunders said she's now seeking more openness in the city.
"I feel like we're moving forward in some ways but we still have a problem with transparency," Saunders said.
City officials have made several decisions very quickly, Saunders said, and she's having a hard time keeping up and getting answers. She referred to the termination of former parks director Michele Frankowski's employment and the hiring process of a new finance director as a couple examples.
"It's all happened at a rapid pace but the city is slow to release the information," Saunders said.
It's a criticism that Saunders shares frequently at city hall. Mayor Pat Kelly and several aldermen often respond by saying they're releasing what information they can at the pace they can.
Kelly has repeatedly said that when the city releases personnel information too quickly, it opens up the city to lawsuits. The city must follow the advice of its attorneys, Kelly has previously said.
What's next for Saunders?
When the state audit is finished, Saunders said she's hopeful that it will be problem-free. And if a problem is identified, that it will be resolved very quickly.
She said she appreciates being honored as Maplewood-Brentwood Patch's Person of the Year, but she wishes more residents would write to their elected officials or attend Brentwood Board of Aldermen meetings.
If more residents care about an issue, then they need to make it known, Saunders said.
"I just hope that people will come to the meetings, and will help continue to make Brentwood the place that it is," Saunders said. "I love living here. I only do what I do because I love Brentwood."