MONTE VISTA— The city of Monte Vista is plagued with improper use of resources, misspending, nepotism and unethical conduct. That is according to allegations made by City Finance Director Heather Hixson when she presented her end of year report to the newly elected city council on Thursday, Jan. 4.
Hixson first asked the exiting city council to be considered for an executive session to discuss issues of a sensitive nature. The request was denied due to concerns the proper chain of command was not being followed. Hixson responded she believed it was possible for the council to suspend any rules and according to the city charter could do so in this circumstance.
The council was ready to make a motion to enter into executive session but City Manager Forrest Neuerburg questioned under which state statute the council would be doing so. As a result the council did not grant Hixson’s request to which Hixson responded she would then state her concerns publicly as she felt it was ethically necessary and she had no other options.
After newly elected council members were administered the oath of office and took their seats Hixson gave her report. After reviewing the end of year budget she began reading off a slate of serious allegations against members of the city staff including many in supervisory roles.
“I’ve been struggling with this stuff for a long time. Our auditor was in our office in December and I discussed my concerns with him. As a fellow CPA I wanted to get what his thoughts were as well and he completely agreed with me. As a CPA I have an obligation to address issues that I feel are either putting the city’s and the taxpayers’ funds at risk and anything I feel is unethical,” she said. “This is really difficult for me because I’m not going to very popular, but that’s not my job.”
The first concern Hixson brought up is the allegation that city employees are using the city shop after working hours for personal use to work on their vehicles. “It’s a liability issue. If someone was to get hurt and they have people who are not city employees the city would not be covered and we could be sued. We don’t know what they’re doing in there. I don’t think there’s supervision...I don’t know the extent that it is being used I just know that it is. I have been told this by executive members of the city. This has been confirmed to me.”
The second issue brought up was the use of consumables such as fluids and parts for vehicles. “I just don’t know how we have any way of knowing those are not being used inappropriately for personal vehicles. That’s unethical. I find it hard to believe that people are not using that stuff. We’re paying for electricity to be used in the city shop after hours for non-city business…” she said.
“I don’t think it’s really ethical that taxpayer dollars are used for the benefit of a handful of people in the city of Monte Vista. Some who might not even be (Monte Vista) citizens,” stated Hixson.
She continued and stated that she had heard that tools were bought for the city mechanic to keep. Hixson said she had brought this concern up before within the city, but was ignored. “I asked that question and what I was told was that it is a long-standing policy that wasn’t quite understood. That’s the answer I got and then it was dropped.”
Personal use of city-owned vehicles was also alleged by Hixson. “Several employees are provided with city-owned vehicles in which they commute back and forth to work. We pay for the gas for that and the vehicles depreciate. I know for a fact that one of the employees does not even live in Monte Vista. So we are paying for him to drive back and forth. I actually found in the municipal code where it explicitly states that under no circumstances are employees supposed to be provided with vehicles that they commute to and from work,” said Hixson.
Fiscal irresponsibility was also claimed by Hisxon to be an issue. One such instance in which Hixson believes this is obvious is that the city pays time-and-a-half for being on-call. “I have spoken to other municipalities and I have not seen anyone yet that pays time-and-a-half. I’m not sure why we are paying overtime rates for people to be on call. That’s just expensive and unnecessary.” She said she had not viewed many instances of people actually being called out to work and feels the city is paying overtime for employees to just be sitting at home.
Another problem identified by Hixson is the city of Monte Vista following their own policies. “We seem to have policies and then when someone complains we change it. Then we change it back when someone else complains. It’s very time consuming... there’s all kinds of policies regarding payroll that we just can’t seem to stick to and put our feet down. We try but it if anyone complains it just gets thrown out the window. It causes errors because we’re told one thing and the next day it’s another thing.”
Salaried employees take advantage and abuse their positions, according to Hixson. “They are not working 40 hours a week, and yet we are paying them 40 hours a week. These employees are also not using vacation or sick time all of the time that they are doing this. It is frequent and it is consistent,” she said.
Hixson also pointed out the city’s issue with nepotism. Some department heads are spouses, and employees within other departments are siblings or close relatives. “I would like to discuss this in an executive session just because it has to do with personnel. I believe it goes against our policy and it has posed some morale issues around the entire city. That needs to be addressed.”
With discipline and accountability Hixson said it appeared there were different standards for different people. “Actually there’s not a whole lot of discipline that occurs around here. That’s also something else I’d like to discuss in an executive session because I can’t give specifics.”
Hixson asked City Attorney Karen Lintott if she was legally allowed to discuss the city manager’s salary, but said it wasn’t necessarily his salary but other things. Lintott said she could not advise Hixson on that. A short dispute also occurred between Lintott and Hixson regarding whether or not Lintott had been contacted by Hixson’s attorney to discuss these issues. Lintott finally conceded she had been contacted but not regarding the statements being made by Hixson.
“I really hope that you guys take this seriously and make it a priority and make it a priority for the city attorney to address this as soon as possible…” said Hixson. She requested that the new council grant her an executive session with them in the future to discuss the problems.
With that the finance director left the podium and the room to thunderous applause and verbal affirmation from the audience composed of Monte Vista residents.
Neuerburg then offered a short rebuttal before his council report. “If the auditors had concerns about our finances or operations, it was her responsibility as a direct report of mine to report those to me. In fact, I asked her how everything went with the auditor and she indicated everything was fine. While some of these things she raised are valid concerns and have to do with some of the long-standing policies and practices of the city, she did fail in her job to properly inform those to me, and again has violated the chain of command by reporting this without discussing it with me before that. Under the city charter it is my responsibility to report the financial condition of the city to the city council, not the finance director’s. That is the difference between a treasurer and a finance director, one which apparently is lost on this employee,” stated the city manager.
There is also believed to be a lawsuit and complaint filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Valley Publishing cannot independently verify the details of this case but is thought to be allegations of a hostile working environment and a gender pay gap.