Deflection is the name of the game and we’ve seen it in full force with the controversy swirling around city hall for the last four months.
Mayor Jared Beymer and Councilman Corey Curnyn have been made scapegoats for looking into several serious issues concerning management of the city.
Beymer and Curnyn haven’t been able to defend their actions in public because they have been told by legal counsel that just about anything they say can be used against them by attorneys representing the three individuals Beymer put on leave in December.
Indeed, Mark Sherinian, representing City Manager/Engineer Terry Crawford and City Clerk Lisa Koch, has already notified the city of his intent to sue Beymer and Curnyn for defamation of his clients.
The negative campaign against Beymer and Curnyn has been very effective in keeping the conversation away from the issues under investigation.
Much has been made of Beymer’s use of an outside lawyer prior to approval by the city council, and the cost of the investigation, which has resulted in continued attacks against him by Rod Bradley and members of the public.
According to George Blazek, assistant city attorney, Beymer had the right to enter into the contract under Iowa Code.
The irony here is that one of the issues of concern for Beymer and Curnyn is the tens of thousands of dollars spent on projects without prior approval by the city council.
The cost of the fire training prop likely exceeded the threshold for which a bidding process should have been initiated, but no estimate of the project was produced by the city.
“There are no plans or written estimates for the roof prop,” Koch told the Bulletin and Review in an email.
Without an estimate, how could the city know that the project would not exceed the threshold for requesting bids?
Was some of the labor for building the fire training prop done by city employees? If so, what was the cost of that labor?
The Bulletin and Review still does not have a definitive figure for how much the fire prop cost, but how does the city have $50,000 to $60,000 lying around for a project that no one knew about when we don’t have money for many other projects?
The project clearly should have been brought to the council’s attention before the bills started showing up.
The idea that some of the project cost was for consumable materials (plywood that will be burned off) is a factor in favor of informing the city council, not the other way around; the consumables will have to be replaced each year, committing the city to thousands of dollars of additional expenses.
Work on the Boulders re-roofing project should have been put out for bids, also. Simply handing out $50,000 without allowing competitive bids is not acceptable.
The Bulletin and Review has been told the city could have saved $13,000 on the project with another contractor.
How many other times has this happened in the past?
It also appears that city employees have been taking days off that are not vacation days and are not sick leave days. We don’t pay the city clerk and city manager their substantial salaries and give them generous vacation days so that they can work a few extra hours here and there and then take more days off. That’s not how salaried managers are supposed to work.
Last week, Denison’s bonding insurance carrier dropped the city following the disclosure that Koch was fired from her previous city clerk job for falsifying financial information.
This is all really, really bad (as Beymer is alleged to have stated in a text message) and these issues were not made clear in the investigator’s short summary – as Curnyn pointed out at a city council meeting.
The Denison City Council is now so afraid of its own shadow that they couldn’t even manage enough votes to go into closed session to discuss the change of bonding insurance. Councilmen John Granzen and David Loeschen voted against going into closed session, so the council simply voted for it without discussion.
Beymer is also being scapegoated for examining the city’s computers. Bradley has made much of this and that Beymer had a key to city hall and did it at odd hours.
But who has more authority here - the elected mayor or the hourly IT contractor?
Beymer should have handed off the computer investigation to an outside entity because he was the one to initiate the overall investigation.
However - nothing has been brought forward to show that Beymer’s investigation was anything other than him doing due diligence to investigate his concerns – although the public perception has certainly been crafted to suggest he was up to something nefarious. Take away his key!
Bradley picked his side and went after Beymer in public even before the investigator presented the cursory summary to the city council.
It’s easy to see why Beymer wouldn’t trust Bradley to help do an investigation of the city’s computers – and, of course, he couldn’t work with Koch and Crawford.
Beymer was dealt a very bad hand by many previous council members and former mayors, some of whom now are going after him in public.
The cost of the investigation is the result of previous city councils and mayors letting the issues slide.
A time-logging system has never been put into place to track when city employees are actually at work.
A bidding process was not mandated.
Would Koch have been hired if that city council and that mayor had done just a little bit of digging? One council member from that time has told the Bulletin and Review that the answer to that question is no.
The community should be up in arms about what has taken place at city hall – not about Beymer’s attempts to fix problems that have been ongoing for years.
Beymer didn’t make his decision in a vacuum to investigate the city employees. He received advice from the city attorney and from others.
With serious trouble brewing, the city attorney or the assistant city attorney should have made time – even during the Christmas season – to help the mayor deal with the issue, rather than handing him off to a Des Moines law firm that then took days to answer his questions.
Was the start of the investigation botched? Yes.
Was it all Beymer’s fault? No.
He has been advised by legal counsel to say essentially nothing, which has left him – and Curnyn - at the mercy of those who would spin tales to deflect attention away from the issues that affect the taxpaying citizens of Denison.
The city council must take action to put a personnel time-logging system in place, “flex time” should be eliminated for salaried employees and the other issues identified in the investigation should be addressed.
The new procurement policy for items over $2,500 is a good start.
Denison should thank Beymer and Curnyn for this policy and the new policies (if enacted by the council) that will save taxpayers’ money today and in the future.