by Kathy Crawford
The mayor and board of aldermen of Tracy took action last week in response to a petition signed by residents requesting state audits of the city for the last three years, but the board apparently arrived at its decision to take that action without an open meeting, a public discussion or a public vote.
According to the Missouri attorney general's Web site, “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.”
Mayor Rita Rhoads said that the letter is “not signed by anyone,” arguing that the signature, which reads “The Mayor and Board of Aldermen,” was type-written and doesn't have each board member's individual signature on it.
Critics say the intent of the signature is clear, and residents were led to believe it did come from the mayor and board of aldermen. Also, writing the lengthy letter and hand delivering it would appear to have required deliberation, as well as a consensus among board members.
Rhoads admitted that the board never had open deliberations and never voted. She said that Julie Thomas, president of the board, decided to write the letter after The Landmark broke the story on May 14 about the petition being circulated by former mayor Brenda Ferguson. Ferguson’s petition asks the state auditor to examine the city’s books.
“As president, Julie wrote it,” said Rhoads. “And then she showed it to me, and I changed a few things.”
Alderman Larry Hill would not comment on whether a vote or meeting took place.
“I didn't write it, but I support it,” said Hill.
The letter accuses Ferguson of misrepresentation and “doing great harm to every citizen of Tracy for her personal satisfaction.” Rhoads said that she has received calls from several people stating that Ferguson lied about the cost of the audit. However, the petition that residents signed includes the information that a state audit will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
Also, the letter signed by the board claims that “…the City will have to incur an additional $18,000 to $20,000 for these audits.” Rhoads said that the figures in the board's letter are based on “rumors that are going around” about the cost. The board has never seen the petition.
“(City attorney Lisa Rehard) asked for the petition, but we've never seen it,” said Rhoads.
Other allegations leveled in the letter at Ferguson are based on rumor: “It has been rumored that she has stated she was sabotaged by the Board of Aldermen, resulting in her failure to seek re-election,” the letter reads, referring to Ferguson.
“That's a lie,” said Ferguson. “The records (audits) have to be correct.”
Ferguson, who was mayor for six years, said she circulated the petition to get the mandated annual audits conducted. She said the contract the city has with UMB Bank states that the city must conduct an audit every year, but Tracy has not done so for the last three years.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Ferguson further comments on her reasons for seeking the audit in a letter to the editor on page A-2 of The Landmark this week).
Ferguson’s petition may have hit its mark. The board gave Rhoads approval to begin making calls to find someone to conduct the 2007 audit at their May 21 meeting. In addition, Rhoads stated at that meeting that she spoke with Connelly and that he plans to have the 2005 and 2006 audits done by mid-June.
Ferguson said that part of the reason Connelly has not been able to finish the audits is difficulty understanding the city's accounting reports and that he had to request additional information on more than one occasion while she was in office.
“I have reviewed the Missouri Municipal League outlines (for accounting),” said Ferguson. “The board has stood in between the treasurer and I to get the accounting in line with the MML and the Government Accounting Standards Board.”