For four days the story has taken on a life of it's own but on Monday night most of it's major characters came together. The controversy surrounding a secret recording a closed-door meeting with the State Board of Accounts is far from over.
Evansville City Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley refuses to back down from her decision to secretly record a confidential meeting regarding the city's 2012 audit with the State Board of Accounts. The controversy was nowhere to be found on the agenda for Monday's Council meeting but it's still the topic of conversation.
For 22 minutes, they sat, listened and voted. The Evansville City Council knew the meeting was being recorded. However, the now infamous secret recording wouldn't be a part of Monday's meeting.
"I refer to it as weapons of mass distraction," said City Council President John Friend. We don't get the business handled."
Councilman Friend had previously indicated that he wasn't planning on attending Monday's meeting in light of his trip to St. Louis. After the controversy continued to gain traction, Friend say he knew he had to cut the trip short. If he hadn't, Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley, who is also the Council Vice President, would have presided over the meeting.
Brinkerhoff-Riley says the public has a right to know the state of Evansville's finances and there should be no privacy in politics. The councilwoman slammed Mayor Lloyd Winnecke for what she called unacceptable bookkeeping. Specifically, she said the city did not properly record payroll funds in 2012 by under paying pensions and over paying certain employees. The meeting she secretly recorded happened on March 12th. Those who attended the meeting include Mayor Winnecke, his chief of staff, three city council members and representatives from the State Board of Accounts.
"As of that day, we could not balance our payroll account. We could not balance our check book," Brinkerhoff-Riley said. "And frankly, we haven't done it yet since Mayor Winnecke has been in office. They can shoot the messenger but it doesn't change the message. I didn't create the message. I didn't create the state of the city's financial records. I just demand that they be fixed."
Brinkerhoff-Riley denies she did anything illegal or violated any ethical standards by releasing a recording of a private conversation. The councilwoman pointed out the alleged money mismanagement is in lieu of the city spending nearly $2 million on software support, hiring an extra full time employee, and spending money to hire outside accounting firms.
"I find the secret recording of the City of Evansville’s Exit Conference with the State Board of Accounts by the City Council Vice President to be irresponsible and a clear violation of trust," said Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke in a prepared statement. "Furthermore, the inappropriate release of confidential state information is a breach of the state audit process, tramples the public’s confidence and puts the reputation of our great city at stake."
State Examiner Paul Joyce has encouraged the mayor's office to allow the audit process to continue, according to Winnecke's statement. As a result, Winnecke is prohibited from offering comments on specific allegations until the audit is complete. The audit is expected to be released in a few weeks, Winnecke said.
"It is incumbent upon all of us as stewards of our city government to understand fully our finance and audit process before arriving at conclusions that are clearly false," Winnecke said in a statement. "In the case of Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley, she is not following the rules and is placing political gain ahead of the best interests of our city."
He sits at the center of the council but Councilman Friend finds himself stuck between the two sparring parties.
"When we get off on these things, it doesn't do us any good," Friend said. "We need to reconcile, get these things behind us and be positive in every aspect that we can be positive."
Mayor Winnecke was not in attendance at Monday's meeting. The democrats on the Council will caucus Wednesday to discuss the situation, Friend said. However, Friend doesn't anticipate any action being taken.