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Following Scandals, a Q&A With Mayor Kelly (Part I)

This is the first half of a Q&A that 'Maplewood-Brentwood Patch' held with Mayor Pat Kelly on Monday. The second half will appear on Thursday.

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.

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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?

Right.

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.

Ed Wright July 20, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Thanks to Ryan Martin for conducting this interview and asking some important questions. And thanks to Mayor Kelly for agreeing to sit down and start to answer some of these questions. I know that he is limited as to public discussion of personnel issues but...this is a start. Keep it going.
Bill McKenzie July 20, 2011 at 01:47 PM
I think that recent events have revealed a culture of financial carelessness in Brentwood City government, not a watchdog culture. I hope city officials will begin to better monitor how our money is spent and spend it as if it were there own.
Pat Maloney (Wilken) July 20, 2011 at 02:29 PM
I think this problem with the overtime in the Fire Department is blown way out of proportion. I am thinking that Chief Niemeyer started this at a time when the firemen's pay was not that good. I, myself, can remember having my house exterminated in those days, and the guys who came were always firemen, supplementing their income on their days off, working for exterminators. I am sure he thought it was a way for the guys to earn some extra income, if they wanted, and also provide a service for the city. Bob Kurtz let it be known that if he became chief, that policy would stop. That, of course, is the source of animosity towards him. Of course the guys didn't want to lose their overtime pay....who would??? So most of them signed something saying they would have no confidence in him if he became chief. And then he fully cooperated with the investigators also. Another 'no-no' for the firemen. I think that your firemen, both the Chief and the rest of them, thought that it was an approved program and had no intention of doing anything wrong. And if you stop and think about it......no one stopped it, so what would be wrong with it? If it turns out to be about $600 per firemen a year, that is not much. And as far as I am concerned, our firemen in this day and age, can't be paid too much !! I think you have a really good Chief and Asst. Chief....and look at the good they have done for your community. They don't get enough praise, in my opinion.
Toni Ponder July 20, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Bill: I agree. There's no question that the City needs to have a financial and controls audit annually--and I am surprised this has not been done! While I think our firefighters do a fine job, and that Chris Seemayer did some good for our community, this money was undeserved and fraudulently taken (regardless of intent) and could have gone to our school district, to enhance our parks and recreation, or any other of a number of things/projects that all Brentwood residents could have benefitted from. Additionally, it sounds again like the Mayor is "shifting" the responsibility of regaining trust and getting the City back on track to the City Administrator. Where is your responsibility in getting the City back on track? What lessons have you learned from these scandals? Will you continue to be so "trusting"?
Brentwood Fire Fighter July 21, 2011 at 04:49 PM
Mrs Maloney I appreciate your comments as do all of the fire fighters at the Brentwood Fire Dept. I would like to clarify one thing though; the fire fighters did not submit a vote of no confidence in Mr. Kurtz to protect this maintenance program. I am not at liberty to discuss any personell matters concerning the City of Brentwood but I felt compelled to comment on this matter. At no time did any member of the fire department ever "intimidate" Mr Kurtz. The Brentwood Fire Fighters love this community and were committed to the best possible candidate to lead the fire department into the future.
Doug Wamser July 21, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Hey everybody, sunny Pat Maloney says $600 a year extra for firefighters "is not much." Of course, Pat is going by Kelly's estimate, which he got from Niemeyer. Kurtz's estimate, and he ought to know, since he was actually there, was that firefighters each ripped off the city for about $1400 a year for the last 24 years. But that probably doesn't matter to Pat either, because she thinks firefighters are just so sweet that they "can't be paid too much." Isn't that special? Hey, Pat, I have an idea: Would you mind paying the tax bills for those of us who DON'T like getting hosed by our fire department? Whaddya say? Then you could be a real hero, too, just like our wonderful Brentwood firefighters!!!!
Doug Wamser July 21, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I saw this comment on the stltoday website: Q: How many Brentwood firefighters does it take to change the oil on a pumper? A: None of your business! Just hand over the OT and shut up!
Chillidan July 21, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Wait -- This OT was an obvious fraud. It doesn't take more than one or two guys to change oil on a pumper. That's the way other dept's do it. If you guys didn't waste so much manpower sending an entire squad out every time somebody trips and falls, you could take care of maintenance on your regular shifts.
Chillidan July 21, 2011 at 08:42 PM
"Thanks to Mayor Kelly for agreeing to sit down..."? It's his duty as a public official! How about: "No thanks to Mayor Kelly for doing his best to hide this scandal from the taxpayers of Brentwood." You can always count on Ed Wright to brown-nose a fellow member of the sacrosanct pubic sector..
Bill McKenzie July 21, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Doug Wamser: I'm tired of your insults against Brentwood firefighters. I have said that the City of Brentwood is apparently financially careless. That's the people at City Hall, especially our elected officials. I am not referring to the firefighters. Anyone who has had to rely on these men knows they are fantastic, compassionate, dedicated people. I do not blame the firefighters for this scandal. They were merely doing what was asked of them and accepted the pay that was provided. You would have done the same. I do fault however the people who should be monitoring all facets of city government for abuse. We truly need a regular outside audit, as pointed out by Toni Ponder. Doug: personal attacks make it look like you have a personal stake in this. Do you?
Chillidan July 21, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Bill do you really think that the firefighters thought they were earning their overtime pay for 3 hours of work? This city is financially careless due to a lack of common sense by people like you.
Pat Maloney (Wilken) July 22, 2011 at 02:19 AM
To Mr. Wamser,All I can say to you is you really should find a better way of expressing yourself. The firemen did not "rip off" the city. I said IF the $600 was what each man received a year, it was not much. Even if it was $1400 a year, that too, is not much. And I stick by that.....that amounts to about about $12.50 a week on the lower figure......and about $30.00 a week on the higher figure. And after taxes, in my world that is not much. Maybe $7.00 to $22.00 a week. And all that is really beside the point. The point is the firemen did a service to the city for many years, and they did it in good faith. To the Brentwood Firefighter, I will apologize for the reason of a no confidence vote, you all might have turned in. I do know what a dedicated group of men you all must be. And it really is not any of my business. I have both firefighters and policemen in my family, and they put their lives on the line whenever they go on a call. And I am very grateful for all of the firefighters and policemen who serve the public with their dedication.
Doug Wamser July 22, 2011 at 06:49 PM
@Bill McKenzie: Yes, I do have a personal stake in this: I am a Brentwood taxpayer. And I think you'd have to be an extremely naive person to think that the firefighters did not know that they were wrong to take pay for work they did not do. I suggest you read the original story about this scandal on stltoday and check out the firefighters salaries. Even before they stole the OT, they were already getting paid twice the annual salary of the average Brentwood resident, according to the latest census figures. If you think that's fair for a department that rarely does anything even remotely dangerous, then I guess there's no reasoning with you.
Doug Wamser July 22, 2011 at 06:57 PM
You have great ethics, Pat. It's OK with you if people only steal $1400 a year. Just curious: Where do you draw the line on stealing that matters? You know, it's complacent people like Pat Maloney that firefighters and other public employees count on to look the other way as they bankrupt cities coast-to-coast with their schemes. Oh, and my offer stands: If you want to pay my tax bill, let me know.
Ryan July 24, 2011 at 05:55 AM
Doug, she did the math for you and yet your opinion doesn't the slightest give her credit on the measly amounts we are talking about here (as she has provided). It seems you are more in for the "I'm a tough man behind a keyboard" tactic rather than actually looking at both sides here. They were doing their job, regardless of how many people it took to do the job. You know damn well in this economy you would do what was asked if it meant a little extra money in the bank for your family's security. Don't EVEN act like you are the perfect citizen because we all know that would be a lie. The magnitude of this is only so great because of the size of this town...
Doug Wamser July 27, 2011 at 07:08 PM
@Jim S.: Love it or leave it, huh? Sorry, but that's the coward's way out. I prefer to protest against injustice.
Doug Wamser July 27, 2011 at 07:10 PM
@Ryan S.: Ryan, your intellect is too powerful to resist. I submit.
Jim Davis August 04, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Doug, love your spunk!!

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