WELLSTON • A state audit of Wellston found gross mismanagement of city money since 2012.
Missouri auditor Nicole Galloway gave the city a poor rating after assessing issues involving financial reporting dating to fiscal year 2013. The audit began in August 2015.
“The Wellston city government is failing its citizens,” Galloway said in a statement. “The city’s financial condition has drastically declined, and a series of missteps, miscalculations and inappropriate activities continue to lead the city down a path of further financial ruin.”
The findings were welcomed by the city’s mayor, who vowed to use the audit as a pattern for reform.
Galloway said no criminal violations were found, but reported the city misused funds, including $2,800 spent on gas for the current mayor, and failed to comply with state laws involving public records, resulting in thousands of dollars in court fees. Report findings also showed the city lacked a budget, had not submitted timely or accurate financial reports and failed to prepare and publish financial statements.
A September 2016 audit of the city reported $280,000 was missing from the bond account, including misspending $90,000 from the account to make police vehicle lease payments.
Auditors found money withdrawn from the city’s general fund in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 exceeded funds entering the account.
“When you have expenses exceeding what’s coming in, that has to be addressed immediately,” she said Wednesday to a small audience at city hall.
The city’s cash balance on Aug. 31, according to the audit, was about $85,000. But accounting statements showed a negative balance of $1,900.
Auditors also found Wellston elected officials were paid two to three times more than people holding the same position in four cities of similar size and population.
For example, the Wellston mayor’s monthly salary is $1,667, while mayors in Clarkson Valley and Green Park are paid $450 a month, according to the audit. The mayoral position in Wellston was the only full-time position of the cities surveyed. Council members in Wellston make $625 monthly compared with $100 for Clarkson Valley members.
The city racked up unnecessary bills, due to failing to solicit bids for goods and services, according to the report, including as much as $53,199 on workers’ compensation insurance.
Also cited are late charges, bank fees and expenses for city officials to attend a conference that three of four members did not attend.
The city paid nearly $80,000 in court settlement costs after a number of incidents, including an assault on a citizen by a council member and violations of the state’s public records law. In April, according to the audit, a council member was awarded a judgment of $32,000 after the city failed to respond to an open records request.
Wellston Mayor Nate Griffin and ousted former city mayor Linda Whitfield were at the public meeting announcing audit findings.
“There is no excuse for not following the Sunshine Law,” said Griffin, who said he helped lead efforts to gather the signatures to trigger the audit. He was sworn in as mayor in November 2014.
He said the city had started to resolve some issues, including contracting out police services and dissolving its municipal division to contract with St. Ann.
Griffin also said his office was “considering a financial adviser.” The seat for city treasurer, for example, has been vacant since January. As for his salary, he said, it was put in place before he was elected. He did not address whether he would support a reduction in pay.
Galloway said she planned to return to Wellston in six months to see if the city was complying with audit recommendations.