Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sun Valley citizens put leaders on hot seat

Some allege that city’s image has been tarnished


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley City Council discusses the forensic audit in front of a packed City Hall chambers on Thursday, Dec. 6. Express photo by Brennan Rego

Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe last week told citizens that the city has corrected “almost everything” recommended by the authors of a forensic audit of the city’s finances, including updating the city’s personnel policy. He said the audit, which covered the years 2009 through 2011, will save the city about $60,000 a year in the long term due to the corrective actions his administration has taken.

Briscoe’s comments came in response to a question during a packed meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, when he and City Council members were placed in the hot seat as city residents fired off critical questions about the audit, which cost the city nearly $285,000.

Cris Thiessen, a city resident, asked Briscoe what corrective action the city has taken to protect its taxpayers’ money.

“We already have done it and, yes, we are doing it,” Briscoe said. “Yes, Cris, I am here and I’m doing my job.”

During the discussion, tensions were high on both sides of the council members’ desk, and Briscoe employed frequent gavel tapping to keep the conversation orderly.

The audit was commissioned by Mayor Dewayne Briscoe’s administration in April, but the results weren’t available to the public until late last month. A summary report on the audit was received by the council in August and was released—in part—to the Idaho Mountain Express on Nov. 27 via the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas had subpoenaed the report and its supporting documents in late August as part of a criminal investigation of possible misuse of public funds by city employees.

Thomas informed Briscoe on Nov. 21 that he will not file criminal charges against past or present city employees due to insufficient evidence. However, Thomas called city management “lax” during former Mayor Wayne Willich’s administration. He said managers demonstrated “apparent conflicts of interest” and a failure to follow stated city policies and procedures. Briscoe edged out Willich by 22 votes in November 2011. During Willich’s tenure as mayor, Briscoe was council president.

“I hope that we will learn from this,” Thiessen said at the meeting, “People working for the city need to be monitored—they can’t be left alone.”

Sun Valley resident Paul Connolly demanded that the city release parts of the report not made public by Thomas.

“For around $300,000, that information must be provided to the citizens,” he said.

Kirtlan Naylor, a Boise attorney who provides special, forensic audit-related legal counsel to the city, said the reason that the council has been legally advised not to produce the documents is because they include personnel matters. However, he said any citizen can submit a public records request with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to obtain the full report.

“That answer is not satisfactory,” Connolly said.

The Idaho Mountain Express is currently discussing the release of additional documents with Thomas.

“We may not have been able to satisfy our citizens’ concerns on releasing all the documents, but at least they got an explanation from [Naylor] as to what the city could legally release to the public without threat of lawsuits,” Briscoe said after the meeting.

Briscoe said at the meeting that Naylor’s services have cost the city $121,000.

Councilman Franz Suhadolnik said at the meeting that he has gone through the audit report “quite thoroughly” and has added up the money “wasted” by the previous administration, including alarmingly large Atkinsons’ Markets and Perry’s restaurant bills, double-dipping of payment for the same hours worked and misuse of city credit and gas cards, among other “inappropriate” expenses.

“Suppose that had gone on another four years,” he said.

Dave Wilson, a resident and former mayor, said the council has ultimate authority over the expenditure of city money and any misuse of public funds is the council’s responsibility to prevent. He said Briscoe, council President Bob Youngman and Councilman Nils Ribi were all on the council during Willich’s administration.

“To stand before us and say the council is responsible is irresponsible,” Briscoe said. “The issues discovered were far beyond the responsibility of the council. The council did not have the authority or responsibility.”

Wilson said he disagreed.

Peggy Tierney, a Sun Valley resident, said she is “embarrassed” by the negative publicity that the city has received over the past year. She said that in a private company, the buck stops with the CEO and in the nation, the buck stops with the president. In Sun Valley, she said, the buck should stop with Briscoe as far as maintaining the city’s image.

“I’m ashamed of the city,” she said. “To demean the character of [the people mentioned in the forensic audit report] is really what’s upset your citizens. I don’t like the idea that you’re throwing the responsibility away.”


Mayor to ‘review’ Police Department

Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said Thursday that, following an extensive restructuring of the city’s fire department—including the September resignation of longtime former Fire Chief Jeff Carnes—he will now be placing the city’s police department under inspection.

“My review and reorganization of the Fire Department is essentially complete,” Briscoe said. “I’m now doing a review of the Police Department.

Last week, Briscoe said he was “disappointed” by the “lack of depth” of a Police Department investigation of apparent break-ins at the city’s Elkhorn Fire Station on two occasions between February and April, allegedly resulting in the loss of city files that Briscoe said would have been examined in a forensic audit. Briscoe said the Police Department’s follow-up on clues as to who might have staged the raid was “inadequate.”

“When we do an investigation, I think we do a thorough job,” Sun Valley Police Chief Cam Daggett said in response. “I’ve never had a mayor be disappointed before.”

In a Thursday email to the Idaho Mountain Express, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas vouched for the Sun Valley police.

“I believe they provide competent and thorough criminal investigations in the cases that have been forwarded to my office,” Thomas stated. “They are responsive to requests for additional information and are generally well prepared for court hearings.  Chief Daggett has established a very professional law enforcement organization in the Sun Valley Police Department.”


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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