While Terre Haute independent mayoral candidate Pat Goodwin says he wants to know why the city has paid a financial consultant $54,700 without proper invoicing, current city officials and the contractor say Goodwin is playing election-season games.
Goodwin, a former city engineer, spoke to the Terre Haute Sanitary Board at its Tuesday morning meeting at City Hall.
He said Public Sector Group received $54,717 during the first six months of 2019 from a wastewater utility account. He said that sum was paid out in response to 14 billings ranging from roughly $460 to $10,125 -- but invoices were not presented to or approved by the Sanitary Board.
Public Sector Group, Goodwin said, is a company operated by Scott Walker, a consultant to the city.
Goodwin contended the board's not receiving and approving such invoices is contrary to Indiana law.
"None of these 14 claims were ever brought to you for approval, (and) Indiana Code is pretty clear on this," he said. "... Beyond the fact that it's illegal to do this, it means that these bills were paid and there's no public record of it. That's important," Goodwin said.
Goodwin said he got the information from a general ledger report he received under a freedom of information request.
He said he was not saying the board knew of the payments, but he said he would like to see an independent investigation. He suggested Indiana State Police would be the proper agency.
The investigation should not be done by city personnel, he said, adding County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt also would be inappropriate because Modesitt's law firm represents the Sanitary Board.
Walker's company received more than $200,000 from city-controlled funds in 2018, Goodwin said.
"It's my opinion that anyone who would investigate this from a labor-law standpoint would find that the city is circumventing paying Mr. Walker as an employee, circumventing putting him through the salary ordinance. He's not doing work for other people," Goodwin said.
"Mr. Goodwin, I appreciate this, your bringing this to our attention, because this is alarming," said board Vice President Tim Adams, who was presiding. "My personal feeling is we should have some sort of investigation done."
Said board member Jim Winning, "Public Sector Group has been a consultant to the city for years. I think it was held over from the previous administration, so this is not news. ... Now, I can't speak to the propriety of how we pay him, but he's a consultant to the city and has been here for probably 15 years. So, whether he charges too much (or) whether he charges enough for his services, I can't speak to that, nor to how we pay him, (but) like I've said, we've been paying him for years."
Goodwin said he wasn't making an allegation of over-billing or over-payment, but he was stating the bills were not approved by the Sanitary Board.
"This was intentional," he said. "... There is simply no way the controller's office is writing checks to this consultant accidentally but (also) accidentally not bringing them to you. It is being done intentionally."
Adams asked whether a request for investigation should be directed to the State Board of Accounts or the Indiana State Police.
Board attorney Joel Modesitt said he would look into procedures for such an issue and try to learn for the board whether a request should be directed to the State Board of Accounts, to the state police or to both.
Mayor, others respond
City Attorney Eddie Felling told the board, "On behalf of the city, obviously this the first we've heard of, I guess, these pretty serious allegations by Mr. Goodwin. I'd ask the board to give us an opportunity to provide a response and reasoning at the next board meeting before you call in the state police for some sort of investigation."
City Controller Leslie Ellis on Tuesday afternoon said this was the first she or her staff had heard of a question involving the claims, but she said she is certain any claim paid by her office had gone through a process that includes submission of an invoice and review by both the appropriate city department and by her office.
If, for someone, reason any claim that should have been placed in front of the Sanitary Board for approval was not, her office will determine how and why, she said.
"If there was a breakdown in the process, we will find it," Ellis said. "Every claim follows the same procedure," she said. "No one is treated any differently than the other."
Ellis also said Goodwin's contention that Walker should be a city employee is not correct. She said she knows the applicable IRS regulations, and "he is not an employee. He (Walker) does do work for other municipalities."
Ellis added it was interesting Goodwin was making such allegations three weeks before elections. She also said it was under Mayor Duke Bennett's administration -- and not under direction of the former city engineer -- that the invoice process was changed to send applicable charges to the Sanitary Board.
Mayor Duke Bennett said much the same.
Walker, the mayor said, is "clearly a contractor. It's not even a question. He has a firm that has other accounts ... (including) other municipalities," the mayor said. "We have a contract with him like we do with all of our independent contractors like Baker Tilly -- used to be Umbaugh -- we have an agreement with them that establishes rates and things, and we bill against that."
Second, Bennett said, "We handle all our vendors the same way. They all go through the same system and get paid."
If claims that should have ended up in front of the Sanitary Board did not, "We're gong to review that. I'm going to have them dig into it and see what he's talking about, and we'll make sure that if there's any administrative things that need to be dealt with (we will). We're not doing anything illegal, so if there's anything we need to get caught up on or anything else, we'll make it right."
"This is clearly a political attack," Bennett said. "He's been throwing out these things for the last couple years, accusing us of doing things and all this dramatic stuff (and) yet we've never found anything being done wrong."
The mayor added Goodwin obtained the information he was citing by way of a public information request made upon the city, so it was clearly in the system and not secreted away.
Walker, reached Tuesday afternoon called "patently false" Goodwin's claim that he works only for the city of Terre Haute and should be considered a city employee.
"I have other clients, (and) I have for years," he said.
He said he surely submitted invoices. "My process for submitting invoices has never changed" dating back to 2004, when he began doing work for Terre Haute, he said.
"There's nothing here," Walker said. "This is not a story; this is politically motivated."
The Sanitary Board expects a response from the city by its next meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 6, its vice president said.
"The problem is, I have always contended, that the sanitary money should be in a separate fund, totally, not put into the general fund," Adams said. "Therefore, we'd control our own finances, and the general fund is (kept) away from the sanitary (funds) because this is not tax dollars. This is a user fee, and we seem to be using it as tax dollars."
Mark Fitton can be reached at 812-231-4333 or email@example.com