Mayor cries foul over 'wasteful spending' accusations

Basehor Mayor Terry Hill gives an update on city government developments during his State of the City address at the Basehor Chamber of Commerce meeting Jan. 27 at Community National Bank in Basehor. Enlarge photo

February 15, 2012

More details

Want to dive deeper into this story? The downloadable documents below offer more information.

• The "Wasteful spending by the mayor" chart is the document on which this story focuses, distributed by a group supporting the recall of Basehor Mayor Terry Hill.

• The City of Basehor expense details offer more information about some of the expenditures listed in the "Wasteful spending" chart. This document accounts for about $9,700 worth of the roughly $10,800 in expenditures listed in the original chart. It was provided by the city in response to a records request by Maureen Weiss, who is a member of the committee seeking to recall Basehor City Council members Dennis Mertz and Iris Dysart.

• The Basehor mayor's purchasing card records, provided to the Sentinel by the city of Basehor, list all of the expenditures made with Hill's city-issued purchasing card during 2010 and 2011. In 2010, those purchases added up to about $830, and in 2011 they totaled about $400.

• And the Clarifications on "Wasteful Spending" chart provide some more information about city expenditures, budgets and auditing. This information was provided in response to Weiss' records request by Basehor City Clerk Corey Swisher.

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Basehor recall petitions

Previous Sentinel coverage of the efforts to recall Basehor City Council members Dennis Mertz and Iris Dysart and Basehor Mayor Terry Hill:

Oct. 31: Residents launch effort to recall Mertz, Dysart over Loughry firing

Nov. 2: Mertz, Dysart deny recall group's accusations

Nov. 14: New recall petition targets mayor

Nov. 22: Mayor responds in letter to residents

Dec. 7: Recall email raises concerns

Dec. 20: Election set for Feb. 28

Jan. 12: Judge rules for mayor's recall election to continue

At the top is a title: “Wasteful spending by the Mayor.” At the bottom-right is a total: more than $10,000.

But in between, the story is complicated.

The “Wasteful spending” chart, included in a letter sent to Basehor residents in January by a group promoting the recall of Mayor Terry Hill, lists about 60 charges paid to restaurants, a golf course and other businesses between June 2010 and December 2011. According to city records, though, only about $530 worth of the $10,800 in expenditures listed was made by the mayor, and some of the other funds listed were reimbursed or rebated to the city.

Hill, whose inclusion on the Feb. 28 Basehor recall ballot was confirmed by a court ruling last week, said the chart is misleading and unfair. He believes it has created an impression in some voters’ minds that he has spent five figures’ worth of money on his city purchasing card, which is not true.

“The word just keeps coming back to me that they just don’t understand how I could spend that much money on the city charge card,” Hill said.

Marilyn Townsend, a member of the Citizens for Responsible Governing group that sent the letter containing the chart, said she believed the charges represented excessive spending by the city government under Hill’s watch, even if he did not personally make the purchases.

“I just think there’s a lot of wasteful spending going on,” Townsend said. “I just think the public doesn’t realize how much money is being spent.”

Hill, though, said he believed the table, labeled, “Wasteful spending by the Mayor,” gave the impression he spent the money himself.

Elaine Bundy, another Basehor resident seeking Hill’s recall, said she was not sure how many letters containing the chart were mailed, but she said it was more than 100. Basehor resident Bob Moore said he had compiled the list of charges by looking at bank statements for the 15 purchasing cards the city of Basehor has issued to employees and the mayor.

According to bank records provided to the Sentinel by the city of Basehor, 18 of the 62 charges listed in the “Wasteful spending” chart were actually from the mayor’s city-issued purchasing card. Those expenditures, all of which were made at restaurants and gasoline stations, added up to about $530 of the chart’s listed total of about $10,800.

According to city records provided in response to a records request made by a Basehor resident earlier this month, the gasoline-station purchases were for gasoline for the mayor’s city-issued car. 
As for the restaurant purchases — made at restaurants in Basehor, Mission and Kansas City, Kan. — Hill has told the Sentinel in the past he occasionally meets with city council members, developers, job candidates and others to discuss city business over lunch, an expense he pays with his city purchasing card. Sometimes those lunches have taken place in the Village West area or near his place of employment in Johnson County, he said, so he could avoid driving back to Basehor from his office in Fairway.

Corey Swisher, Basehor city clerk and finance director, said all the expenditures listed in the “Wasteful spending” chart were actually made by the city, and all complied with the city’s purchasing policy. Purchases not made by the mayor were made by city staff members.

In response to the records request made by a resident earlier this month, the city provided explanations for some of the larger charges listed on the chart. 
The largest expenditure listed, just less than $4,000, was paid to Ingram’s, a Kansas City-area business magazine, for an ad promoting the city of Basehor. Most of that cost was reimbursed to the city by the Basehor-Linwood school district and other local groups and businesses; the city’s share was about $700.

Three charges from Dell, adding up to about $3,600, were for desktop computers for the offices of the mayor, city administrator and code enforcement officer. Four charges at Falcon Lakes Golf Club in Basehor, totaling about $870, came from retreats held in spring 2011 for the Basehor City Council and city employees to plan projects and budgets for the next year.

In all, according to city records, Hill made about $830 in purchases on his city-issued card in 2010 and about $400 in 2011. Not all of those charges are on the opposition’s list.

Kim Winn, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said it was normal for cities to give discretionary spending authority to a mayor or city employees. It's up to the city's governing body — in Basehor's case, the city council — to establish limits on that spending ability, she said.

“Generally, governing bodies focus on policy,” Winn said, “and you really don't want them to focus on buying paper clips.”

The city's current purchasing policy, approved by the city council in 2010, allows the mayor to make purchases up to $500 without soliciting quotes from potential vendors.

Hill said he would not object if voters chose to recall him if they feel his spending has been excessive.

“Let’s have a disagreement of opinion, but let’s not use wrong facts,” Hill said.

The mayor added that his responsibility is to see that the city stays within its annual budget, which is set by the city council and not the mayor. He said he believed the city had done “an exemplary job” keeping within its budget during his time as mayor.

Townsend said she also wanted to leave the issue up to voters. “We live in a democracy,” she said, “and if people are OK by what’s spent down there, then I won’t fight it.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that all the purchases listed in the "Wasteful spending" chart were made by the city, but not all by city staff, as the mayor is an elected official and not a staff member.

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