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Perryville commissioner accuses town employees of misconduct

BY MARISSA GALLO, Record staff

9:40 AM EDT, October 4, 2012

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Perryville Commissioner Michael Dawson made several serious accusations about town employees Tuesday night during the monthly town hall meeting, accusations that are being refuted by the mayor, police chief and town administrator.

Shortly after the meeting began, Dawson asked that a closed session be put on the agenda to discuss what he called the "criminal misconduct" of a town police officer.

The mayor and commissioners voted down the request and Police Chief Vince Wernz said he had nothing to report "on any criminal misconduct."

Dawson, however, continued to bring up the subject during the meeting.

The town's juvenile outreach program recently hired a new director and Dawson also questioned the manner in which he was hired.

The commissioner asked Wernz how many people applied for the position, to which he replied that the job is advertised internally first, according to the personnel manual, and one person applied internally. The same person is the new program director.

"Procedures were followed correctly," Town Administrator Denise Breder said. She added that the position was advertised in-house for a week and the position was filled.

Later in the meeting, Dawson asked the police chief about the hiring process and background investigations involved.

Wernz explained fingerprints of the applicant are sent to the federal government and any reports of convictions are sent back to the police department.

Dawson switched subjects back to the "alleged criminal misconduct" of one of the department's employees and asked if an investigation was still taking place.

Wernz said he couldn't speak publicly about it.

It doesn't take three months to conduct an investigation, Dawson said, especially on an alleged theft.

Breder assured Dawson that when Wernz had something to report he would report back to the mayor and commissioners.

Dawson bluntly said he didn't believe Breder or Wernz, and he wants information in the next few days.

"[It is] not advisable to talk about personnel issues publicly," Breder said, and refused to do so.

The town administrator, however, received the brunt of Dawson's accusations, specifically regarding copies of a purchase order for road improvements the commissioner said he asked for two weeks ago.

"[There is] quite a full load on my plate right now," Breder told Dawson as to why he hasn't received the documents yet. She added that purchase orders from 2009 and 2010, the time frame the requested document is regarding, is in remote storage and a town employee would have to fetch them.

Instead, Breder gave copies to the mayor and commissioners of the 2012 town roads report.

Two weeks is plenty of time, Dawson said, and the delay leads him to believe the purchase orders are being altered.

"Absolutely not," Breder responded. "I don't appreciate that implication."

Dawson then asked if there has ever been a time where a timesheet - he didn't say of a town employee's or by whom - had been altered.

"I don't know. I don't want to go down that path with you," Breder said. After Dawson asked Wernz the same question he said that was a matter that was discussed in closed session.

Dawson made a motion to disclose the minutes from that closed session on Aug. 7 so the public knew what was going on. The motion died. Another motion to go into closed session to discuss disclosing the minutes to the public was voted down.

More questions about personnel issues were also shot down as it would open the town to a lawsuit, Breder noted.

In what Dawson called "a violation of our rules and regulations," he claimed there was an alleged misappropriation of funds to pay for improvements to a gravel road a family member of someone in the public works department happens to live on.

"It was not a transfer of funds or misappropriation of funds," Breder said, adding that the money was in the budget for capital improvements as had been approved by the mayor and board.

"It gives a bad appearance to the people of favoritism," Dawson responded.

If someone paved the road in front of the commissioner's house, Breder said, citizens could think the same about favoritism, but the other people on the gravel road, "they deserve to have a paved road."

After requesting to have a discussion at the next work session about a possible misappropriation of funds, Mayor Jim Eberhardt said the town has always "relied on the technical expertise of those department heads" who "determine which roads and streets need [repairs] the most."

Dawson said he disagreed with the mayor's assessment and made a motion to ask for Breder's resignation. No one seconded and the motion died.

In addition, during the commissioners' report Dawson claimed there had been an incident in which his personal safety was threatened during a planning and zoning board meeting by one of the group's members.

He said he had made a motion during a previous closed session asking to have that person removed from the board and the motion was denied. He said "my safety is more important than a planning and zoning meeting I'm not required to go to."

Comments from the police chief

Wernz said on the phone Thursday the comments made about personnel issues "shouldn't even been brought up last night in open session."

He could confirm there is an open investigation involving someone who works for the police department.

"An accusation has been made and it is being thoroughly investigated and it will be reported back to the board at its conclusion," Wernz said, adding that he takes "all accusations seriously."

Regarding Dawson's claim of a town employee threatening him, Wernz said the town meeting was the first he had heard about it and the commissioner had yet to file a report with the Perryville Police Department.

'A real slap'

Eberhardt also said Wednesday the request for Breder's resignation was "a real slap at her" and she has "the vote of confidence from the board, other than [Dawson]."

Breder, he continued, "has done a good job and the rest of the board knows that."

The mayor reiterated that what the town has done "for a long time" is budget a certain amount for capital improvement projects on roads and not specific roads because one year's budget starts coming together as much as 15 months before the end of the fiscal year it's for.

By the end of that time, Eberhardt said, streets can worsen rapidly, especially after winter, and the head of public works has "the knowledge and expertise" to judge which roads need improvements most. As long as the money is available in that account there's no appropriation of funds.

In reference to the gravel road that was paved, Eberhardt said it was "the last dirt road in Perryville" and insinuated because it's such a small town it's not a surprise that a relative of a town employee lived on the road.

Eberhardt also confirmed Wernz's statement that no police report had been filed against the town employee who allegedly threatened Dawson, nor had a complaint been filed with the town.

Breder stands by her record

In an e-mail statement sent Wednesday evening, Breder reiterated that she "will not comment on any specific personnel actions or issues in order to protect the privacy interests of individuals and protect the integrity of ongoing investigations and matters that may be under review."

She noted many of the town's achievements, including growing the general fund net surplus from $155,235 in 1998 to $6.2 million in 2011 and reducing the real estate tax rate four times in 13 years.

"I was hired in August of 1998 as a financial coordinator for the town and was promoted to finance director and assistant town administrator before being appointed as town administrator in December 2005," Breder wrote. "I have always worked hard for the town. I am a person of honesty, integrity and unwavering dedication. This is a well-run town and I am proud to have been part of that for the last 14 years."