A review of a St. Louis suburb shows a level of dysfunction which earned it a rating of “poor” from the state.
A citizen requested audit of Wellston showed serious mismanagement of taxpayer money and a lack of accountability across city government.
Auditor Nicole Galloway says poor oversight of records has made it difficult for council members to adequately monitor the city’s finances, and for her office to determine the true extent of the city’s financial problems.
According to the report, the city may not have proper knowledge of its own ordinances because it doesn’t maintain an index of all ordinances passed and rescinded.
The city’s also been plagued by lawsuits leading to $80,000 in settlement costs for incidents such as an assault on a citizen by a council member, a class action suit over illegal fees charged by the municipal court, and violations of the Missouri Sunshine Law.
As well, the report says the city has serious cash flow problems and can’t keep up with payments for its operations. It doesn’t prepare budgets, publish legally required financial statements, or file annual financial reports.
Another questionable use of funds, according to the audit, points to the mayor, who bills the city for fuel he purchases for his personal vehicle at St. Louis County pumps. In one year he bought 1,600 gallons of gas for $2,800, which averages out to 31,000 miles driven in a city that spans less than one square mile.
The report notes a city employee was paid $5,000 for “unused vacation” time with no documentation indicating how the amount was determined.
Further, the audit said the city had trouble maintaining compliance with the state’s Sunshine Law. It failed to respond to Sunshine requests within the time frame required by law.
The city hasn’t followed rules of the Sunshine Law when closing off meetings from the public. And it was forced to pay out $6,300 in 2015 when it failed to turn over police records under the law.
The review said the audit evaluated the city in three areas, where it identified, (1) deficiencies in internal controls, (2) noncompliance with legal provisions, and (3) the need for improvement in management practices and procedures.
“The Wellston city government is failing its citizens,” said Auditor Galloway. “The city’s financial condition has drastically declined, and a series of missteps, miscalculations and inappropriate activities continue to lead the city down a path of further financial ruin.”
Wellston’s rating of “poor” means the State Auditor will return later this year for a follow up review. The Wellston Municipal Court also received a poor rating in an audit performed last fall. A follow-up review of the court will be released this summer.
Wellston has a population of just over 2,300 population according to Census numbers. It’s located adjacent to the city of St. Louis.