The City of Salem has failed to publish in The Salem News semiannual revenue and expenditure statements for the past two years, in violation of state statutes.
Revised statute of the state of Missouri 79.160, which is for Class 4 cities, calls for the board of aldermen to twice a year provide combined statements of revenues and expenditures and changes to the fund balances that would appear in a newspaper in the city.
The statute reads in full: “The board of aldermen shall semiannually each year, at times to be set by the board of aldermen, make out and spread upon their records a full and detailed account and statement of the receipts and expenditures and indebtedness of the city for the half year ending with the last day of the month immediately preceding the date of such report, which account and statement shall be published in some newspaper in the city.”
The city ran the above-described statements Jan. 31, 2017 (statement as of Dec. 31, 2016); Aug. 22, 2017 (statement as of June 30, 2017); Aug. 14, 2018 (statement as of June 30, 2018); and Feb. 26, 2019 (statement as of Dec. 31, 2018).
No statement has been published nor received by The Salem News since the February 2019 statement for 2018, according to a search of the newspaper archives and its bookkeeping system. The legal notice in the newspaper also requires a notarized affidavit.
State statutes also require the city not to disburse any money until the statement is published, meaning the city has been in violation during all of 2019 and 2020.
Due to that violation, the city was not supposed to be paying any bills until the statement appeared in the newspaper.
Statute 79.165 reads in part: “In the event the financial statement of any fourth class city is not published as required by section 79.160, the treasurer of such city shall not pay out any money of the city on any warrant or order of the board of aldermen after the end of the month in which such financial statement should have been published until such time as such financial statement is published.”
The statute goes on to read that any treasurer violating the provisions of the statute “shall be deemed guilty of a class A misdemeanor.” Class A misdemeanors in Missouri can result in up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
Erica Nunnink was appointed by mayor Brad Nash to fill the city treasurer vacancy in a June 15, 2020 meeting, according to minutes from that meeting. Prior to that time, the position was vacant. Though Nunnink is listed as treasurer, previous financial statements, the statements sent Monday and other legal notices have all come from city clerk Mary Happel.
An email questioning the long overdue statements was sent to Happel Friday. She responded with an email 10:21 a.m. Monday requesting The Salem News publish four statements in this week’s edition, which is printed Monday evening. The statements were for six months ending June 30, 2019; six months ending Dec. 31, 2019; six months ending June 30, 2020 and six months ending Dec. 31, 2020.
The Salem News was unable to publish the statements on short notice. Deadline for legal notices is 10 a.m. Monday, and due to the size of the statements, sent without prior notice, publishing them was not possible. The Salem News office was also closed Monday due to the severe weather and responded to Happel that the statements could run in next week’s edition.
The appearance of these combined statements of revenues and expenditures and changes to the fund balances is ultimately up to the mayor and board of aldermen, according to statute 79.350. The statute declares that the mayor or board of aldermen “shall have power, as often as they may deem necessary, to require any officer of the city to exhibit his accounts or other papers or records, and to make report to the board of aldermen, in writing, touching any matter relating to his office.”
Statute 79.200 takes it a step further, stating the mayor “shall be active and vigilant in enforcing all laws and ordinances for the government of the city, and he shall cause all subordinate officers to be dealt with promptly for any neglect or violation of duty.”
In the event the city official or mayor do not act to enforce negligence or dereliction of duty, statute 79.180 gives the board of aldermen power to compel officers of the city to not only attend a meeting of the board, but produce records “which the interest of the city is involved.”
A lack of combined statements of revenues and expenditures and changes to the fund balances placed in The Salem News by legal notice coincides with utility billing issues that have plagued the city of Salem since October 2019, when the city switched billing systems. Since then billing has run months behind. Bills received this month are from October 2020.
Lack of transparency by the city over the financial impact of the billing problem led The Salem News to file a public records request Oct. 27, 2020 asking for financial statements on a cash basis to assess the city’s debt and cash flow. The city has not produced those financial statements as of Monday.
Those financial statements and the combined statements of revenues and expenditures and changes to the fund balances are two different reports.