A special investigation by the state auditor’s office has identified $134,000 in “improper” and “unsupported” spending by three city clerks in Hornick, a small town near Sioux City. State Auditor Mary Mosiman says just over $18,000 worth of “improper” payments were made.
“That was mainly extra payroll as well as late fees that would have gone to the IRS and (the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System),” Mosiman says. “all classified as improper because it was not for city business.”
Janet Ronfeldt was the city clerk in Hornick for eight years. After she resigned in 2009, the new city clerk raised concerns about the city’s finances. The auditor’s review found more than $115,000 in “unsupported” spending in Hornick while Ronfeldt, Rebecca Chan-Nelson and Stacy Sandt served as city clerks, “which basically means there was not enough documentation available to determine the propriety of the payments,” Mosiman says.
Those payments could have been legitimate, but there were no time sheets, bills or any paperwork to show what those payments were for.
“That is one of the responsibilities of government officials is to make sure that every tax dollar has a public purpose,” Mosiman says, “so when they’re not going to maintain documentation, there’s no way of telling.”
About $54,000 was paid to various businesses and individuals without any billing data to show why. Mosiman says it could have been “reasonable” spending for things like office supplies and phone service. About $48,000 was paid to former mayors as well as current and former members of the Hornick City Council, but again there was no paperwork to show why those payments were made. Mosiman and her staff have advised city officials to verify the payroll and divide duties, so the person who writes the checks isn’t the same person who reviews and approves the spending.
“The population of this city is just over 200 people, which means that they do not have annual audit requirements. No independent auditor is coming in there for oversight of their financial transactions,” Mosiman says. “That does put all of the responsibility on the city officials — in other words the city council and the mayor — to provide the necessary oversight on an on-going basis.”
Iowa cities with a population of 2000 or more are required to have annual audits. Cities with fewer than 2000 residents have annual “examinations” if the city budget tops $1 million. The books in smaller cities with smaller budgets are reviewed periodically.