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Blame game dominates Silex’s financial problems

  • Updated
  • 4 min to read
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Finances are the No. 1 cause of the dissolution of relationships.

In Silex, finances have the been the No. 1 cause of contention in the city – and the cause of the city’s financial situation has caused a heated debate that has split the small city into factions, and even raised allegations of criminality from one side of the argument.

“When we got here, I knew it was bad,” said Mayor Chuck Turbyeville. “I didn’t know how bad it was.”

Turbyeville said bills weren’t being paid by city when he took over, and as mayor, he has tried to rectify those issues.

“What we’ve done from day one is chip away at the trash services, and the Ameren bill,” he said.

However, former Silex Board of Alderman President Justin Spanier said Turbyeville is misrepresenting the facts for his own gain. 

At the board’s final meeting before the election in March of 2018, it chose not to pay bills, but not because the town was broke, according to Spanier. Spanier said the city had $6,870 in unpaid bills – and there was $244,710.85 in the general fund.

“We didn’t pay bills. Yes, we didn’t pay them for two month – for February, March and April, but that’s because we didn’t have a budget.

“We had people who were out sick, and we had no quorum. It was in the minutes for the meetings.”

According to Turbyeville, taxes were not being paid by the city, and money from the water and sewer accounts (which are sacrosanct) were moved to the general fund. At around 8:30 a.m. on April 10, 2019, then City Administrator and Police Chief Bill Barnes allegedly moved $6,582.10 from the sewer account to the general fund for payroll, with the majority of it going to the now-defunct police department.

Turbyeville also said in 2018, the year before he took office, $197,586.37 was moved from Silex’s checking account to the general fund, including restricted accounts, such as water and sewer.

“That’s why those accounts are restricted,” he said. “Those pumps provide water for the business section, the nursing home and the schools in Silex.”

When asked about those transactions, Barnes said that, while he did handle the financial records, the actual handling of the money was left to others. 

“I printed checks,” he said. “All of the fund transfers were done by the city clerks.

“They’re the ones who did the billing.”

An audit conducted by the State Auditor’s Office in 2019 found fiscal mismanagement contributed to Silex’s poor financial status that needed immediate attention. Spanier admits mistakes were made by him and the Board of Aldermen, but said those mistakes were not made out of malice.

“The city needed education on how to handle the money,” he said. “When you’re a small city like us, you do what you can. We needed to be better-educated – and that’s what the audit said.”

Turbyeville had one response for Spanier’s explanation of events.

“Honest mistakes are killing me here,” he said.

Turbyeville also said he wonders why criminal charges haven’t been filed against Barnes and Spanier for their mismanagement of funds due to the audit.

“If you can’t justify bringing criminal charges, what does it take for the Auditor’s Office to do it?” he said.

The State Auditor’s Office was contacted regarding the situation, and while it had questions about the conduct of the previous administration, it said it had no power to bring charges.

“The audit identified unsupported disbursements and questionable purchases. Auditors attempted to obtain an explanation of the purpose of the disbursements, how they related to city business, and any supporting documentation from the former city administrator, but no response was provided,” said Steph Deidrick, press secretary for the State Auditor’s Office. “The audit detailed these concerns and made recommendations to allow the city to better document disbursements and ensure spending is appropriate. However, audits do not determine criminal violations of law and the State Auditor’s Office does not have the capability to prosecute potential crimes. 

“That would be the responsibility of law enforcement.”

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was contacted regarding the situation, and said the only response it received about improprieties in Silex was in 2019, when then-Sheriff John Cottle removed an unopened and sealed box from City Hall when Turbyeville closed it and changed the locks.

The box was returned later, still unopened, by the Sheriff’s Office, according to the statement.

Barnes said the audit was initiated under false pretenses. He said Turbyeville and former Mayor Robert Zeh told residents the audit for the purpose of roads, and when they found out the real purpose of the audit, those residents changed their minds.

“Once we found out we were being audited, and the reason why we were being audited, we wanted to be as transparent to the residents as possible,” Barnes said. “We sent out a letter to the residents saying what the audit was about, and about 15 or so residents wanted to have their names removed when they found out the real reason for the audit – and that was about half of the signatures (Zeh and Turbyeville) needed to get the audit through, but it was too late to have their names removed.”

The six-month audit ended up costing Silex over $70,000. While there are complaints about the cost of the audit from the city, Deidrick said the cost is standard operating procedure for those types of audits.

“State law requires that the cost of a citizen-led petition audit be paid by the city. Those costs vary depending on the complexity and scope of audit work,” she said. “The cost is based on actual staff work hours and expenses. In cases when actual costs vary from the original estimate, auditors communicate that with the city so they are aware prior to the final billing. 

“Our office frequently works with local governments to ensure reasonable payment arrangements.”

Spanier and Barnes said neither wants to continue having their names and reputations tarnished because of situations either beyond their control, or situations that had nothing to do with them.

“The little things you do for people should get you appreciated, but when people try to tarnish your name, it hurts,” Barnes said. “They never said what I did behind the scenes. They never saw me at four in the morning unclogging and unfreezing pipes for the city.”

“My family goes back to the founding of this town. I’m a Henry, and I’ve got kids here, and I don’t want my kids hearing their father is a crook who destroyed this town,” Spanier said. “I don’t want my kids hearing the Henry’s destroyed this town.

“Did we make mistakes? Yes, but we did them with the best of intentions, but when we did them – and when we found out about them – we fixed them.”

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