This week a couple Shawnee City Commissioners spoke out regarding allegations from residents claiming the city is not being forthcoming about recent budget solutions; they are stating millions in funds have likely gone missing or were mishandled.

This week a couple Shawnee City Commissioners spoke out regarding allegations from residents claiming the city is not being forthcoming about recent budget solutions; they are stating millions in funds have likely gone missing or were mishandled.

For months former City Commissioner Tom Claybrook expressed deep concerns that the board diverted $7 million from the city's streets fund to spend elsewhere.

Claybrook said it explicitly states that when the voters approved the third-cent of sales tax (years ago) they did so in a manner dictating how it was to be spent.

Part of that sales tax — .4375 — to street improvements was legally restricted by the voters.

“There is no caveat allowing for those funds to be borrowed and sticking an IOU in the books,” he said to the board in March.

Another group also voiced opposition in a recent ad paid for by Citizens for Transparency on the Horizon; allegations asked, “Millions missing? where are your tax dollars … .”

After several bulleted items listing specific planned-but-unfinished streets projects, alleging the city violated state statute, violated City Code and misled voters on the half-cent sales tax issue, the questions continue, “Is this fraud, embezzlement, reckless spending (over 2 years), careless bookkeeping? Why is the City Commission ignoring this instead of calling for an audit?”

Ward 3 Shawnee City Commissioner James Harrod said against his own longstanding rule he wanted to address the recent allegations of mishandling city funds.

He encouraged residents to obtain a copy of the city's 2018 audit and talk over the findings with commissioners, city leaders and/or any Certified Public Accountants they choose.

“It's very clear in this audit that money was transferred around and there's a clear paper trail — which is legal — of all transfers, and auditors could follow it very simply,” Harrod said. “I don't know where the (alleged missing) $7 million comes from; I can't find $7 million in the budget, let alone $7 million missing.”

No laws were broken, he said, if they had been, the city would have filed charges.

Harrod also pointed out that commissioners are the only ones who can make budget amendments.

“The commission has acted in good faith, the city manager has acted in good faith,” he said. “We've done everything we can to prove that everything is labeled and equal and everything is fine and dandy; the city is in good shape.”

Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter said he is incensed that he has been called a liar in print, as well as other city commissioners.

“If you will look at the City Charter, read especially (Sec.)2-244 (Interfund transfers), it says, 'all transfers of resources between funds, both operating and residual equity transfers, shall only be made in accordance within City Commission appropriations' — that's what we do each year in the budget,” he said. “Once lawfully appropriated, interfund transfer payments may be made by the city treasurer-finance director without further city commission approval.”

Salter said, “So all the stuff you hear about money going here, money going there — it could happen. It's time for everybody to get back together and move on. I'm tired of being called a liar — I've never been a liar.”

Now that Assistant City Manager Chance Allison has just been named City Manager, Interim City Manager Eric Benson in his parting statements also took an opportunity to publicly reiterate his stance that the city's effort toward financial realignment has been nothing but good stewardship.

He said city leadership was supportive in making some hard choices involving getting the budget back from a 96 percent deficit of personnel — as in dollars-to-person ratio — down to now under 78 percent.

“There are those who argue erroneously there was some unfair indulgence or coercion of some of those employees,” he said. “I will take any and all of them's statement now in the way we offered them the opportunity to graciously end their long and stellar city career — and in so doing we enabled them five years of medical care … .”

A decision was made in November to incentivize early retirements for city employees.

At that time Benson said over the past few years the city had not seen as high revenues as hoped. He said the city's savings account — though sparse now — had been serving its purpose.

“Unfortunately the budgeted amounts in recent years have exceeded the revenue amounts,” he said.

But, he said the city had the opportunity to offset that with savings — which were created for that purpose.

“Frankly, we were at a situation where too much of our revenue was devoted to personnel costs; we had grown too large,” he said.

Benson said an avenue was then provided for senior city employees to have the opportunity to retire in a manner that enhanced the city's financial standing, as well as to their benefit.

When the early retirement incentive was introduced, most of them were disturbed that they didn't get to keep working at a place they enjoy working, he said, and they were concerned about their medical benefits.

“We addressed both of those issues because we knew they would be critical to them,” he said.

The annuity, or lifetime value of their retirements were actually enhanced, Benson said.

“We gave them the opportunity that, 'I really can't afford not to retire,'” he said. “So we shifted; that goes over to our well-funded, very healthy retirement system and relieve the load.”

Benson said the incentive took about $1.7 million off the city's personnel costs.

“It was a critical issue at a critical time because our capital expenditures were coming up, the projects that we intend to do were merging quite closely with our inability to do that,” he said. “So we had to make some tough decisions, but we did it on the most compassionate manner possible — in fact, it was financially beneficial.”

Benson said this week, as it has been shown by staff, the city's financial picture has since been turned around.

“There were some looks though, and highly contested, though driven by a lack of factual basis on some decisions,” he said, “most critically that of the senior center.”

Of the budget, he said every penny has been accounted for, every decision was right and proper.

“And those who wish to criticize that — even those who should know better by their own experience — are misguided,” he said. “And it does not reflect well on the hard work of this staff or commission.”

Allison officially is set to take on his new role as City Manager Aug. 2. Shawnee Forward will host a come-and-go reception for Benson and Allison from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. July 23 at its office, at 231 N. Bell.