Bethel City Council looking to hire private investigator

by Ben Matheson on February 3, 2014

The council went into executive session for two and a half hours Saturday morning, but they did not come to any decision about hiring a private investigator to examine city contracts and personnel issues.

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The city council is not using any specifics and are not saying publicly which contracts and personnel issues warrant investigation.

“It’s really hard to pretend like is everything is fine,” said Councilmember Heather Pike. “It’s very limiting what can be detailed talked about…but based on what I’ve seen and I have read, I would definitely be in favor of spending up to 50 thousand dollars to do this because that’s how important I feel about these issues. It may come to fruition that nothing has been done in error and everything is perfectly fine. But we need to investigate it. We have the responsibility to both our city employees and the citizens of Bethel.”

The council had directed the city attorney, Patty Burly to look into hiring someone. She reached out to several firms and heard back from two investigators. One was led by a forensic auditor, a retired FBI accountant -Guido van Drunen. He’s associated with KPMG and KMBL in Seattle. The other reply came from a labor and contract attorney, William Earnhardt.

The city says the information exchange between the city attorney and the accounting firms is considered attorney-client privilege and can’t be released to the public. The council did discuss the matter briefly before going into executive session.

Council member Sharon Sigmon sponsored the agenda item and explained the intent of the investigation. The auditors could look at contracts entered, personnel, and anything that puts the city at risk for lawsuits. She said the council could give the investigators a list of specific issues and have the third party explain them.

“So that we are not giving those rumors and innuendos but rather that we have an objective look at issues in the city and its operation,” said Sigmon.

The investigation could cost $50,000, billed at up to $300 per hour plus expenses.

City Manager Lee Foley reminded the council of the upcoming financial hardship related to AVEC’s takeover of BUC. A drop in city sales tax means a one million dollar budget deficiency for the city.

“That’s already putting the city at great risk and I’m already in a position where I’m going to have to defund positions and let people to in order to keep a balanced budget and keep the city operational. To now expend anywhere from 200 to 300 dollars an hour is something you should consider very seriously bearing in mind the budget deficient forthcoming,” said Foley.

After a couple hours in executive session, a visibly frustrated council reconvened, sealed up their confidential envelopes, and adjourned the meeting with no action taken. The council will continue the discussion of hiring an auditor at its next meeting.

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