Many questions remain unanswered following the two recent financial scandals that have engulfed the City of Brentwood.
(See related on Patch: Brentwood Residents: "I'm Embarrassed." and )
Maplewood-Brentwood Patch spoke with Mayor Pat Kelly about the scandals, their effect on the city and what Brentwood government must do to regain the residents' trust.
This is the first half of our conversation. The second half, which focuses primarily on the fire department, will run on Thursday.
The dialogue has been slightly edited for grammar and length.
What are your thoughts about the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that ran in the Sunday paper?
Parts of the story were accurate. Parts of it were not. I try to err on the side of being overly protective than open when dealing with personnel matters, especially when it deals with individuals, so I'm kind of guarded about that kind of thing. I think you need to protect people's privacy. I would say that the article was correct on a number of things. Overall, it was relatively fair, I guess.
What would be the points of the contention?
That would get into the personnel matter part of it that I don't think that I can touch on. If individuals want to come out and say something, that's fine, on their own accord. I'm just going to leave it at that.
So there are parts of the story that are inaccurate but you can't comment because it's a personnel matter?
Right, right. But, overall, it was pretty close. Right.
What can you tell us about the situation?
I can tell you that what took place is they () had a maintenance program where the firemen would come in on their day off and help service the vehicles. When they're doing their trucks, four to five guys would come in—whoever wanted to voluntarily come in on that day—and they would do one truck one day, a second truck the next day then the two ambulances the third day.
So, with the ambulances, they would have two people coming in along with the supervisor to do those. The men would come in on their day off, they would work on servicing the vehicles, and, according to the fire chief, a minimum that they worked was six hours, but they were paid for a full day, which, for them, was 10 hours.
How did the city find out about this?
Through the , the police chief brought it to my attention.
Did he say it looked like there was too much overtime, or what?
At first it was obviously a concern because there was the allegation of extra overtime being paid. Then we looked into it. After he notified us, we started to evaluate it. The first thing I did was I went and talked to the fire chief and told him that it had to stop. From there, we went through and evaluated it. Our outside counsel did an analysis and he estimated it came down to about $600 per man per year in additional overtime.
This doesn't seem to stem from, necessarily, the police investigation unless it's part of a conversation with current firefighters. How would anyone know exactly how many hours the firefighters were working?
That came from the fire chief. That's what he told me.
While the police department was investigating, this issue just came up?
Have you talked to any of your constituents about what's going on?
Since the article came out, I've really only gotten one e-mail. I haven't had any phone calls from anybody or any additional e-mails. But I think some of the concerns were, "How could it have gone on so long?" According to the chief, he started this in 1987. I don't want to speak for him, but he thought he had approval because he's been doing it for so long. I feel bad for the reputation of the firemen. I think we've got a great group of guys. I think they felt that this program was approved. They didn't think they were scamming the city. It was just the way it had always been and they participated in it.
Brentwood has always been known as a sleepy town. But in the past couple weeks, it hasn't been so sleepy. Does take a hit through all of this?
I think so, but that's why we have to be proactive to regain that trust. In any organization you can have mistakes, hiccups and those kinds of things. The Chris Seemayer situation was unfortunate. I think he did a lot of great things for our city, and it's unfortunate. We just have to learn from that. I can tell you that I'm a very trusting person so you just believe in people that they do the right things. We just have to try to get over that and move forward as a municipality.
You said "regain that trust." What is the city doing, or what can the city do, to regain that trust?
With our , I think Bola (Akande) is a lot more professional in her duties and I think that's something that will be good for our city. I think the other thing is, on a more global countywide scale, Bola is going to be much more willing to work with other municipalities and other city administrators, whereas in the past Brentwood was always on its own. I was kind of the outside person as the mayor but the city administrator didn't do a lot of that. There are going to be a lot of things that maybe upgrade us as a community.
How can some of these situations go on for so long? The Seemayer thing is a good example, but the overtime example is an even better one.
I think it was just a program and nobody questioned it. I can't answer that question. That's another thing that I've suggested to the board, that we hire an independent accounting firm, to really come in and evaluate our internal systems to make sure we have the right checks and balances in place as a community.
People want to know how and when things go wrong, and how it's going to get fixed. It seems as though the city has been veiled in that regard, in how things can be fixed and what needs to be fixed.
There's two things to your question: one, I think sometimes it's very easy to sit on the outside looking in thinking, "Why didn't I get that information?" When we're dealing with personnel issues, I'd rather err on being cautious. With the Seemayer thing, while it was still under investigation until the sentencing, we're not really supposed to say anything. That's the way those processes work. We can always look at ways to communicate better with the residents. I think whenever you have a tragic situation like this, that's the first thing that people say. It is unfortunate. But we just need to continue to keep residents informed.
The second and final part of the Q&A will appear Thursday morning on Maplewood-Brentwood Patch.