Center’s Board of Aldermen fired the city clerk on Wednesday night after learning that state-mandated annual financial reports have not been filed for at least three years.
Longtime City Clerk Tracey Ray, who is married to embattled Police Chief David Ray, was fired by 4-0 vote of the board. She was not present at Wednesday night’s meeting.
During a tense monthly meeting before a packed, standing room only crowd in the city building, City Attorney Joe Brannon reported that the city of 508 residents has accumulated $144,000 in fines from the state, and that it appears Missouri law does not allow the fines to be forgiven.
"I was told by the taxation division that statutes do not allow for the fines to be waived, though I have not checked that out yet," he said, adding that the city needs to "be concerned and get it corrected quickly."
The board passed an emergency measure to request an immediate audit from the office of Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
"I talked to them (the auditor’s office) and they told me to call and let them know our decision," said Mayor Dennis McMillen.
McMillen said that Ralls County Clerk Sandy Lanier called on Friday to tell him that the city’s financial report for 2017 had not been filed, and that the city is facing fines for each day the report is late.
"She told me what was going on, so I called state auditor’s office and they told me that since 2015, we had not turned in a financial statement. It was a shock," he said.
McMillen said that he immediately started calling and sending text messages to the city clerk, who was on vacation.
"She said that she would be in on Monday so we could talk about it, but on Monday, she was not at work, so I texted her at 9:15, and asked her why City Hall was not open. She finally called at 3 o’clock and said that she would be in at 8 on Tuesday…but she did not show up," McMillen said. "I trusted her to do her job, but I guess I should have been looking over her shoulder. I feel betrayed right now."
According to the city budget, Center’s General Fund revenues for 2017 were just under $200,000. McMillen shook his head over the fines.
"That’s a hell of a lot of money for a city our size," he said.
The Board of Aldermen also learned that the city had no key to access to its post office box in Center, and that there were no keys to a closet where key financial records should be stored.
"We went to the Post Office and could not get our mail handed to us over-the-counter," McMillen said.
.After the meeting, Alderman Cristy Browning said that she had concerns since she took office about Ray’s performance as city clerk.
"I am flabbergasted for how far it went and the result, but I am not flabbergasted by feeling there was something not right," she said. "We never had access to the financial records and there was always an excuse."
Last month, the city erupted in controversy when Browning and Alderman Tom Bramblett took control of the June regular meeting and voted 2-1, with one alderman not present, to fire David Ray as police chief.
A week later, McMillen convened a special meeting of the board to reverse the firing decision, which Brannon said violated a Missouri law enacted in 2013 that clearly outlines procedures for firing police chiefs and said the board’s actions met none of those guidelines.
Brannon said that state law includes a mandate that an elected board of aldermen or city council must issue to the police chief a written notice of their intentions no fewer than 10 business days ahead of the scheduled action.
The law also addresses grounds for termination, which include misconduct, insubordination, violation of a written policy or committing a felony.
Under the 2013 law, a police chief can demand a public hearing to address the elected body’s charges, presenting evidence and offering witnesses.
The board voted 3-2 to invalidate the firing.
There was an agenda item to discuss the chief’s employment status, but Browning made motion to table the issue.
"The timing is not right with what we are now facing.
However, when ask if the firing of the city clerk would have any bearing on the police chief’s future, McMillen just shrugged his shoulders.
"I really don’t know," he said.