Representatives of Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday in Center to review the city’s financial records.
Last week, Center’s Board of Aldermen voted 4-0 to fire City Clerk Tracey Ray after learning that state-mandated annual financial reports have not been filed for at least three years. The board then voted 4-0 to request a state audit of the city.
City Attorney Joe Brannon reported that the city of 508 residents has accumulated $144,000 in fines from the state – a number that grows daily – and that it appears Missouri law does not allow the fines to be forgiven
"I talked to the auditor’s office on Friday and they agreed to come investigate," said Center Mayor Dennis McMillen.
Steph Deidrick, spokeswoman for Galloway, confirmed that members of the auditor’s staff would be in Center to help the city.
"We received a request and that gives us the authority to perform an audit … of anything that we find," she said, adding that specifically, the office is investigating claims of fraud and abuse.
"We will do an initial review to see if the allegations are creditable," Deidrick said. "What happens next will be determined by that review."
If the auditor’s office discovers evidence of alleged criminal actions, that data would be turned over to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and local prosecutors, she said.
McMillen said during the Board of Aldermen’s monthly meeting that Ralls County Clerk Sandy Lanier called 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.
He 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."
McMillen said that the amount of the fine would be devastating for Center.
"That’s a hell of a lot of money for a city our size," he said.
At the meeting, the Board of Aldermen also learned that the city had no key to access 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.
McMillen said that the city has made arrangements get access to the mailbox, but that he plans to take a representative from the auditor’s office on Tuesday to the post office to retrieve mail.
Ray is the wife of embattled Center Police Chief David Ray, who was the target of an ill-fated attempt to fire him when two members of the Board of Aldermen wrested control of the June regular meeting that was not attended by one alderman and the city attorney last month.
The chief was reinstated at a special meeting a week after the city attorney said the board’s actions violated a Missouri statute, enacted in 2013, that provides for specific procedures to fire chiefs of police.