CENTER, Mo. |Â About 40 people jammed the tiny Center community building on Wednesday to hear details of an audit that uncovered what state officials call embezzlement.
Many entered the meeting expecting fireworks after an official report earlier it the day from Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway revealing that former City Clerk Tracey Ray had allegedly siphoned more than $316,000 in taxpayer dollars to pay for personal expenses, travel and health care insurance.
Mayor Dennis McMillen, who was narrowly re-elected in June over Alderman Thomas Bramblett, set the tone for the meeting with his opening statement. First, he apologized to citizens for the lack of city financial controls and accountability cited by Galloway in her report. He offered no excuses for the lack of oversight.
Then, McMillen said the board had already adopted all the changes recommended in the audit report, including segregation of financial duties, dual signatures on checks and following state law to obtain an independent financial audit each year of the city.
âWe have made several changes to make sure that things like this do not happen again. We are not going to get into any arguments. We will answer questions. Some we may not be able to answer you may have to ask the auditor,â McMillen said.
Although a few audience members tried to speculate whether Ray's ex-husband and former Police Chief David Ray was either involved or knew of actions, several wanted to focus on the audit results.
From the audience, Tracy McDaniel, who expressed outrage at the alleged embezzlement, said she was pleased the city is dealing directly with the financial reporting shortcomings.
âThank you for having this meeting,â McDaniel said.
Ralls County Clerk Sandy Lanier, who attended the meeting, said a change in state law requires that the Missouri Department of Revenue contact elected officials when units of government fail to file financial reports as required by state law.
Center had not filed a financial report with the state since 2015. That news triggered the firing of Ray and the request from the Center Board of Aldermen for an audit by the state.
Without that notice, the alleged embezzlement might have gone unnoticed for much longer.
âAs soon as I got the notice, I called Dennis immediately,â Lanier said.