Brentwood Residents: "I'm Embarrassed."
The recent financial scandal at the Brentwood Fire Department drew several residents to speak during a Brentwood Board of Aldermen meeting on Monday night.
More than 45 people and three TV crews were in attendance as residents spent 25 minutes telling the Brentwood Board of Aldermen how saddened and embarrassed they were about the recent string of unfortunate news stories that have engulfed the city.
(See related on Patch: After Plea, Details on Seemayer Investigation Are Scarce and Overtime Pay Scandal Plagues Brentwood Fire Department)
Mayor Pat Kelly spent the first few minutes talking about the situation before residents took the podium. They shared concerns about poor internal controls, government mismanagement and lack of transparency.
We at Maplewood-Brentwood Patch documented what was said during the public forum period. We'll start with the mayor's introduction before repeating what else was said. Some messages have been slightly edited for grammar and/or length.
Mayor Pat Kelly
As you are all aware, a few weeks ago, our former city administrator pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from the city. His sentencing will be in September this year. I think our internal controls on that situation - flags were already raised, we were starting to look at it, and we were notified by the bank as well. It was in the paper, and most people took it that it was the bank that found this out. We were alerted to the situation and working towards that. When it was brought to my attention by staff and the police department, we immediately contacted the authorities and took it to the federal prosecutors and proceeded with the investigation.
With respect to the article that was in the paper just this past weekend, again, through this investigation, it was determined that a program for maintenance was taking place in the fire department, where the men were getting paid for 10 hours of work when they were working, according to the fire chief, a minimum of six hours once every quarter while doing maintenance on the trucks. When that was brought to my attention in May, after consulting with our legal counsel, we immediately put a stop to that program and then proceeded to make the changes that we are doing now in the fire department. I think it's important, in both of these situations, that we move forward. I think one of the goals, and I've already suggested this to the board, with respect to our internal controls, once our new city administrator starts on August 1, that we want to hire a new, independent accounting firm to look at all of our internal controls to make sure that we are using best practices and to make sure that we are doing everything possible to protect our taxpayers' revenues. I also think it would be good with our new city administrator, once she gets grounded, that she really look at all of our departments throughout the city, evaluate all the programs, and make sure that they're being run and treated fairly for all of our employees across the board in all of our departments. As bad as the situation is, I think this is a real opportunity for the City of Brentwood. I think I can speak for the entire board that we are really excited for Bola Akande to be our city administrator. I think her professionalism is going to bring a new light to the City of Brentwood. So we're looking forward to her starting on August 1 and getting to the next level.
This is a sad day in Brentwood to have those two articles in the paper. First of all, for Chris and anyone else involved, I do pray for them. My concern is that we definitely have to know what happened in the past in order to move forward so it doesn't happen again. I printed the auditor's report, or opinion, from 2009-10. In there we didn't do an audit of internal controls. Especially in a time of technology when we have so many electronic changes in the way things are processed—debit cards and so forth—it's important that you look into internal controls. My background is as an accountant, so I'm not really certain why we chose not to look at our internal controls in the audit.
The reason I'm here is because … there has some been bad news in recent weeks. It raises concerns amongst me and my neighbors about how things have gotten where they are. I don't know if these events—such as Mr. Seemayer's events—are errors of judgment or could have been thought of as isolated instances, but now they're looking to be more like a pattern. It underscores the need…for transparency and accountability in every level of government. How do we know the board is being transparent with us?
I was in a meeting Saturday evening when my wife called. She said, "Once again, the City of Brentwood has made front page of the Post-Dispatch." I read the article. I basically have two concerns. Kelly said the overtime pay won't be a burden on Brentwood's finances. It amazes me, your honor, how you can be so nonchalant about the taxpayer dollars that the citizens of this community are giving to you to spend wisely. No big deal. What's a few bucks?
The second one is even worse. Kurtz's salary was $108,000. In retirement, he will immediately collect the pension of $86,400. He has already found another job; our mayor has named him as Brentwood's new building commissioner with an annual salary of $83,000. You ask a man to retire from a $108,000 salary and you turn around and are going to give him taxpayer money from the citizens of Brentwood of about $170,000. I wish, your honor, that you would come slap my wrist.
I find this a very painful proceeding. Most of the people here and many of the people on the board and yourself (the mayor), we consider you friends. This is a very small and tight-knit community. What has bothered me in the past three or four months, more than anything else, we had to rely on rumors, whispers about what's going on in the city. To date, other than your statements at the beginning of this meeting, the city has said absolutely nothing about Mr. Seemayer and the theft from the city, they said nothing about this crisis with the fire department. I really think that if the Post-Dispatch had not written that article Saturday night, we would never hear anything about this fire department issue.
Since early in the spring there's been a lot of supposition that's been floating around the City of Brentwood, so it's nice to finally to have it out in the open, although it's bad that we had to learn about it through our newspapers instead of from the individuals that we vote into office to represent us.
I want to say up front that I think firefighters do good work. And I'm not here to question that. We have some of the finest in Brentwood. There is an element of risk to their job and I'm eternally grateful and appreciative for what they do. They deserve to be justly compensated and Brentwood's are. They're one of the highest paid, they have a new state of the art facility, updated equipment and increased recently their pension. My hope is that they can be grateful without expecting additional pay through some sort of fraudulent activity but that's not really why I'm here tonight.
What I'm really here about tonight is the abuse of power and what I see as abusive activity, and I think there's been a pattern to it over the years. And I think it's really, really sad because we've tarnished an honorable profession. There's been an inappropriate use of public dollars. I work hard to support myself to earn an honest living and don't appreciate it when I learn that those who are supposed to be overseeing public tax dollars aren't honest about how it's being spent.
John Geppert (chairman of the Brentwood Planning and Zoning Commission)
It is with a very heavy heart that I'm here tonight to say that my family moved into Brentwood in the early '50s. I was raised here. I raised my three kids here. All of us graduated from the Brentwood School District. I have always spoken with great pride about being from Brentwood. With great pride. And now? I'm embarrassed. I'm absolutely, with all due respect Mayor, and you and I have had a good working relationship between you and Planning and Zoning, but I'm embarrassed. I don't see action coming from this group of people to end that embarrassment. I really don't know what you're doing to try to get confidence back in the citizens of Brentwood, that there's going to be actual management that they can be confident that their tax dollars are well managed. I'm embarrassed.
How has the Seemayer and fire department financial scandals affected your view of Brentwood and its government? Share your thoughts in the comments or submit a Letter to the Editor to be featured on Patch.