BETHEL — The city of Bethel has released results of an investigation into city contracts and nepotism that led to the firing of its city manager last month.
The Bethel City Council in March paid an outside law firm $40,000 to conduct the investigation. The results, which detailed improperly awarded contracts, special agreements and violations of nepotism rules, chronicled mismanagement on the part of former manager Lee Foley and questioned some city policies, KYUK reported.
The Bethel radio station, The Associated Press and other media outlets sought release of the investigation under open records laws, and the council released a redacted version of the document late Monday.
The investigation was very clear, Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka told KYUK.
“We just have to have a city manager who follows the Bethel Municipal Code,” Klejka said.
The findings found Foley apparently made special agreements with Bobby Sutton, a former finance director, including flying him in from Somerset, Kentucky, to do budget work.
The report says there was no competitive bidding process before making the agreement with Sutton.
Contracts were awarded without going to bid, the report says. Faulkner Walsh Constructors was chosen for several, including one to demolish the old police station, but that was arranged so the company could pay old debts to the city, the report says.
“There was code that told him exactly how to do it so there would be documentation, so taxpayers would get their best purchases with the money we’re using for the city,” Klejka said. “That was consistently not followed. Special deals were given to whoever was most convenient for him to pass it out to. In fact it’s not even always clear why he chose what he did choose, because the documentation just isn’t there.”
There is no listing for Lee Foley in Bethel. A message left Wednesday with Sutton wasn’t immediately returned.
Harry Faulkner, president of Faulkner Walker, told the AP by telephone Wednesday that Foley was given a deadline by the council to have the police station removed. He said Foley did solicit other companies over the phone, but only Faulkner Walker could get the job done within the council’s timeframe. He also said he had a defunct seafood company, and they decided to pay off that bill with the demolition instead of having that company file bankruptcy.
Faulkner said the city is dragging Foley “through the mud,” adding that was the thanks Foley received for taking the city manager’s job when no one else would.
“He did them a favor, and this is his reward,” Faulkner said.
Investigators also found that a relative of Foley’s works for the city, a violation of the city code. It also says the relative was apparently the only union employee who receives full tuition for a master’s program, and says the city paid for first class tickets for this person’s travels because of the person’s tall body.
The report cleared City Council member Heather Pike from any wrongdoing for her long-term relationship with another city employee.
But the investigation also found the city was at fault for some problems, like a poor billing system and incomplete records of leases. It recommends that the city hire a human resources director.
The city previously did away with the position, but Klejka says filling that is now a top priority. The council also has tightened rules regarding nepotism, credit card usage and tuition reimbursement and policies covering leases.