The latest drama between Zionsville City Council and Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron unfolded at a council meeting on December 6 when council member Bryan Traylor accused Styron of “going around council” to finance the city’s municipal action center.
âThere is no trust there,â Traylor said during the meeting about his and other board members’ relationships with Styron. â(The mayor’s administration) spent $ 204,000 on (the Town Hall Improvement Fund) that council lacked transparency, and the mayor specifically requested an appropriation for that money. We, as one tip said, no. Instead, she left this account that you are not telling us about. It is (expletive). It’s downright (expletive). We have been very transparent. We didn’t want to spend that money.
After meeting with legal counsel on Dec. 14, Traylor said he and two other council members and council counsel Heather Harris were confident that the mayor’s administration was operating outside state law when ‘she withdrew money from the Town Hall Improvement Fund and the Motor Vehicle Fund to pay for the Municipal Action Center – money Traylor said the council had not budgeted or appropriated funds in 2021.
âRight now it’s a matter of trying to determine if she’s allowed to do what she’s been doing,â Traylor said after the meeting.
But Styron believes she acted within her authority to use money from the funds to pay for the project in a “public and transparent” manner.
âEverything that we have done in terms of requesting additional funds was provided at a public meeting,â Styron said after the meeting. âAnd all related expenses have been reviewed and voted on by city council in its bimonthly claim file. Every dollar spent on the MAC was presented to the board after the fact, where they reviewed the claim file, and they all voted individually. And the whole project complied with all state laws relating to public tenders.
âBecause of the way the fund was created, it is not affected. Available cash may be used for the specified purposes of the fund. This is how it was used in the past. Councilor Traylor insisted that this process has not been transparent, but it is simply not true.
During the meeting, Traylor raised concerns about how the mayor funded the city’s municipal action center, which opened in late October on the first floor of City Hall. Council members expressed concern that the fund was not appearing in the budget of the city’s local government finance ministry or in the non-DLGF budget.
The local government finance ministry only reviews tax-financed funds, and the city has funds that are not reviewed by the DLGF, which are accounted for in a separate, non-DLGF budget. Council members state that the Town Hall Improvement Fund is a non-DLGF fund, but it was not included in the May 6 presentation of the city’s 2022 non-DLGF budget on December 6. Zionsville chief financial officer Tammy Harvard said the town hall improvement fund was not included in the non-DLGF budget because it has a zero dollar balance. Council members accused the mayor’s administration of completely depleting the fund without their knowledge or approval to pay for the Municipal Action Center.
âEven though it wasn’t in the budget, they kept it in this third budget, which was just random funds that they didn’t put in any of the budgets and started pulling out of it. money to pay for the renovation of the town hall. “Traylor said.” And the most important thing is that I get a lot of reluctance from people who say, ‘Why don’t you just talk to the mayor?’ Well, the problem is that she doesn’t respond to us. Getting information from this administration is almost impossible. I post things on social media, in large part, because once I do, I start getting responses from the administration. And it’s sad that it has to be done that way. And when I stand up and say things that are irrelevant at city council meetings, it catches his attention and I start to get answers. “
During his first year in office, Styron envisioned the center as a one-stop-shop for residents and officials to conduct government business. Plans for the center were incorporated into the town hall reconfiguration earlier this year and have been a point of contention between Styron and some members of city council. Council voted 4 to 3 against two more appropriations for the reconfiguration, with the majority expressing budgetary concerns and a reluctance to renovate the first floor of a building that opened less than five years ago. It was suggested that the additional funds come from the city’s ICC and CCD funds.
Havard said at a council meeting earlier this year that the city plans to fund the reconfiguration regardless of the council’s vote on additional funds. The mayor and many city officials favored the reconfiguration because it was to save the city money by moving two departments to the city hall. City officials said the extra money was mostly for furnishings and other extra expenses that were not critical to construction.
But over the past year, council members have expressed frustration with the city’s transition to a new financial system, which they say is hampering their ability to see the city’s cash balances and spending. They said they were unable to see details of how the Town Hall Improvement Fund money was being spent until they reached the council claims process , which is usually a formality at the end of board meetings when board members approve claims for supplier services already rendered. Council members say that if they did not approve the claims at this point, suppliers would not be paid for the services rendered. Traylor said he left board members with no choice but to approve the claims.
â(At best) we’ll have late fees,â Traylor said. âAt worst, we will be prosecuted. But I learned a valuable lesson there. I won’t be so easy to manage on claims in the future because we definitely took advantage, in my opinion. “
The move to a new financial system also delayed monthly financial reporting to the board for most of the last year. According to Zionsville City Council Chairman Josh Garrett, council members did not receive financial information from January 2021 to June 2021 until September. He said that due to the deactivation of the previous financial system in 2020, the city council could not see complete financial data – including total revenues, total expenses and cash balances for the second half of 2020 as of June 30. 2021 – before September 23.
âWhat we were asking all along was, ‘Where are you going to get this money?’ But without that monthly financial data it was really hard for us to keep up, âTraylor said. âWe were at a bit of a disadvantage there. “
Harvard said the board will receive monthly financial information now that the new financial system is up and running. The financial statements that council received in September included information regarding the Town Hall Improvement Fund. Traylor said the board, because it had no financial reports to benchmark, was unaware of the fund’s cash balance until September 23 and was unaware that the fund had no expenses. budgeted in 2021 when Havard told council the mayor planned to draw down the funds to finance the project, regardless of the council vote on the additional appropriations in March.
Harris confirmed that the board needed more transparency from the administration.
“The role of this body is to be the city’s tax watchdog, so if there is no transparency with the public body that oversees city funds – even if you just say that this is dedicated and can only be used for that source, or that’s how those funds will be spent – there still has to be public accounting, given not just to city council but to members of the general public, âHarris said. to the council at the meeting. “And we’ve seen this many times, and I, as your councilor to city council, would have a lot of discomfort in the fact that you don’t see all the funds, and you don’t see all of the fund balances, and you can’t see how those dollars are being spent.
Council members say repairs and maintenance for future city hall buildings will now have to come from the general budget, which they say means reduced dollars for public safety and roads.
Traylor said council was unsure of what its next steps would be after meeting with legal counsel, but he expects state officials to want to investigate the matter further.