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State auditor cites Snoqualmie on two findings

SNOQUALMIE - The Washington State Auditor's Office cited the city of Snoqualmie with two findings earlier this month regarding mayoral pay.

An auditor's report issued on March 19 stated Snoqualmie violated city and state law by allowing payments to the mayor in 2002 and 2003 that were either retroactive or were compensation for performance of regular duties.

The first instance was on March 11, 2002, when the City Council approved a pay increase for Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher from $12,000 annually to $20,000 annually. Although the increase was approved in March, Fletcher was paid retroactively by the city from Jan. 1 of that year.

The second occurrence was last spring when the City Council authorized a $1,553 check to Fletcher. Prior to the approval, Fletcher had approached council members individually and asked them if he could be reimbursed for the two weeks of work he would need to take off to investigate then-city administrator Gary Armstrong. The check was authorized by the City Council on April 14, more than a week after it had been issued on April 4.

The auditor's report said both of the allocations, however, broke state law, which states that no city employee can be paid retroactively.

For the second instance, the auditor's report also stated that a city can't compensate an employee for duties considered to be part of their regular job.

Fletcher said he never asked for the raise, but was grateful for it. Fletcher said mayoral duties take up many hours a week of his time, and most of his mornings start before 4 a.m. Getting a raise was needed if he wanted to continue to serve as mayor since he needs to take a lot of time off from work that can't be reimbursed.

Fletcher said he decided to investigate the city administrator last year after hearing complaints from city employees who had all worked for the city for different amounts of time, giving him the feeling the problems were not isolated. Fletcher sensed he would get more candid answers with the city administrator gone and placed him on two-week leave. With no city administrator, Fletcher needed to fill the city executive void and took two weeks off work from his job with no pay to run the city. The reimbursement from the city was to cover his lost pay during that time.

After the two weeks, Fletcher met with Armstrong and told him to work on a list of problems Fletcher had identified during his investigation. Later that year, Fletcher said Armstrong had not made sufficient progress and he was fired last July.

Fletcher learned something else after his two-week investigation. When he went back to work, he found he had been let go.

"While I was gone they figured they could get along without me," he said.

He was able to get a job in Snoqualmie, but for a 30 percent cut in pay. He said that although he was paid for taking the time off, the loss of a job and a pay cut quickly made up the little over $1,200 he received as take-home pay. While Fletcher said he would not knowingly break the law, he would do whatever he needed to do to investigate a problem in the city.

"It was the right thing to do," he said. "I would go in front of anybody and tell them the same thing."

The report said the auditor's office does not go though every single item in city budgets, but rather looks closely at specific funds that are routinely mismanaged, such as petty cash and payroll.

City Attorney Pat Anderson said the city has responded to the auditor's report and agreed. He said the auditor didn't request that the mayor give any money back and that City Council introduced an ordinance at its March 22 meeting that prevents anything similar from happening again in the future.

The report said the city has had error-free audit findings since 1992 and that Snoqualmie "management has been diligent in its efforts to improve internal controls" and is "committed to serving its residents in the most cost-beneficial manner." The auditor's office did not (and could not) issue any penalty against the city.

"We try to encourage cities to use audit reports as tools," said auditor's office spokesperson Mindy Chambers. "We don't enforce anything."

Councilman Matt Larson, who voted for the retroactive pay the first time but was against the pay compensation, said he was happy the city recognized a problem and is working to fix it.

"I'm glad we identified the issue and have taken the steps to assure it doesn't happen again," Larson said.

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