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State auditor takes issue with some spending in Florissant

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – A new report from state auditor Susan Montee finds that while it may have been legal, some of the spending done by Florissant Mayor Robert Lowry may not have been in the best interest of the city.

Montee released her review of the city Tuesday night. The Democrat, who is running for re-election, audited Florissant at the request of nearly 3,000 citizens who signed a petition over two years.

Florissant's governing structure limited which of the concerns Montee could address. The City Council appropriates sums of money that Lowry allocates to specific projects. Those are policy decisions, which Montee does not have the authority to review.

But Montee took issue with the way Lowry spent his discretionary fund, questioning the purchase of tickets to a non-profit's fundraiser, Christmas cards and a holiday party. She also expressed concern about frequent fee waivers given to community groups that wanted to use the city's recreation centers and portable stage, which cost the city as much as $18,000 in 2009.

"Sometimes we step just step back and say can you do it, and if even you can, should you do it," she said.

In a written response to the audit, Mayor Lowry called all of the questioned expenditures legitimate, and said they were backed by documents included in the budget. He also called many of Montee's recommendations immaterial.

"I thought after four months of looking at the city of Florissant and this is all they can find, I think we're a very efficient and effective organization," he said, adding that he would implement some of the auditor's recommendations.

Pamela Weakly-Lee, who helped gather the 3,000 signatures, said the audit validated many of her concerns, though she would have liked a more thorough review of the way Lowry spends the city's restricted funds.

"It may be legal by state statue, but I don't agree with a lot of the expenses that are typically paid out the general fund have been put into the sewer lateral fund, the park improvement fund," she said.
Montee's report included an observation that the city used $200 from the sewer lateral fund to pay for four city employees to attend a state association golf tournament, but she said the funds were used according to state law.

Montee's report also found that the city was not justifying why it kept certain contracts with its legal team, and was paying overtime to workers who should have been exempt. She also found the city was not properly posting why it was closing meetings, and not keeping detailed-enough minutes of those closed meetings