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Menahga addressing faulty accounting; Larry Karjala resigns

Interim staff for the City of Menahga are wading through incomplete financial documents.

Citing personal and medical reasons, council member Larry Karjala resigned at the close of the meeting, effective immediately.

Interim City Administrator Char West reported at Tuesday's city council meeting that she and Interim Deputy Clerk Alvina Kytta will be researching, completing and submitting Office of State Auditor and Minnesota Department of Revenue reports.

West said 2019 budgets and financial statements are being reviewed for accuracy and missing figures are being entered.

In her written report, Kytta said, "I spent my first two days just filing papers that hadn't been filed." She said she is reviewing the work done by Abdo, Eick and Meyers Financial Solutions (AEMFS), which the city hired to fulfill deputy clerk's duties, such as payroll, balance statements, billing, etc.

"It's slow progress because I am finding many errors and have lots of questions," Kytta wrote. "I have communicated with the auditors some of my concerns over some journal entries that were posted that should not have been. It is tedious to go through each entry. In some instances, there is no documentation for the purpose of the entry."

She continued, "I have been filing vouchers and have found numerous errors in posting to wrong funds. I also found check stubs with no proof of invoices attached." Locating the proper attachments and correctly coding them to the right city fund "will take time."

Kytta is also correcting "numerous" payroll errors so she can submit a state quarterly report by the deadline. "Also, PTO (paid time off) was not always posted to the person's accruals correctly and I will need to go back and make sure YTD (year to-date) totals are correct."

West said a notice about the city's board of equalization meeting was not published in the legal newspaper 10 days prior to the April 11 meeting. This is a violation of statute. She consulted with the Wadena County Assessor who said the meeting will be held, then recessed until the required public notice can be published. The council was unaware of the meeting, whose purpose is to determine whether property was properly valued and classified by the assessor.

West reported she is working with attorney Kennedy-Graven at Law to provide city documentation for the upcoming court case regarding a conditional use permit (CUP) that the city awarded for a cell tower. In November, American Tower Corporation filed a lawsuit in Wadena County District Court against the City of Menahga and Uniti Towers. The city held five public hearings about the CUP prior to approving it.

Finally, West explained that the council's offer to reimburse the police chief candidate's VA health insurance at $1,100 is a violation of the Affordable Care Act and could result in hefty fines. West said she made the applicant aware of the issue. The council tabled the matter until their April 18 special meeting.

West noted the council's job offer didn't include PTO. On Tuesday, the council approved a maximum of 272 hours based on his 9 to 14 years of experience.

West provided copies of the Menahga City Council bylaws to the council "for your late-night reading," she said.

Public comment

Kori Nelson told the council it had come to her attention that a few council members have been making derogatory comments about her. "I'm not happy about it. If you want to talk crap about us citizens, talk to us about it. If you don't think I have a say in what happens, all your names are on my ballot," she said. "It's pissing me off. To be honest, I would ask you to think about your ethics."

Jesse Welch expressed concern about the council illegally closing a special meeting to discuss employee misconduct when it had not been on the published agenda. She noted the League of Minnesota Cities and Menahga city code explains how different meetings must be handled. "I'm scared that the city might face penalties or even legal action."

She also suggested that the council consider hiring a city campground host to answer questions, handle reservations and assist with cleanup or other simple matters.

In other business, the council:

• Scheduled a special meeting to interview four deputy clerk applicants at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 18.

• Accepted a $2,799 quote from Midco Diving and Marine Services, Inc. to inspect and clean the city's water tower and clear well. Public Works Supervisor Ron Yliniemi explained that paint is peeling, but the warranty is void because the company is now defunct. The council agreed to pay an additional $200 for a written report and inspection DVD.

• Agreed to make eight campsites on the west side of the city's Memorial Forest Campground, plus one additional campsite, first-come, first-served only. They also made reservations available seven days prior to stay rather than three.

• Learned that the city nursing home had an operating loss of $13,647 in February. Greenwood Connections Administrator Laura Ahlf attributed it to the month having three fewer days compared to other months.

• Adopted, on a 4-1 vote with council member Tim Ellingson opposed, a resolution of support for Sourcewell's application to the Regional Yellow Ribbon Program for $45,700 in funding. According to the Wadena County Veteran Services Officer, $10,000 of the funding may be applied toward Menahga's expansion of the cemetery for additional veterans plots.

• Pledged $1,000 for three owner-occupied residential projects that qualified for Small Cities Development Program awards. The monies will be considered deferred loans and prorated over seven years, so long as the resident remains in the home.

• Accepted a $500 donation from West Central Telephone Association for the Sounds of Spirit Lake outdoor music series.

• Accepted Logan Schoon as a volunteer firefighter, putting the total to 22. Fire Chief Dave Kicker said he'd like to have 23 or 24 in the department. "Our industry is seeing less and less people wanting to do this. It's a commitment."

• Appointed council member Art Huebner to serve on the Menahga Fire Association after learning that, by statute, two elected officials must participate. At their previous meeting, the council appointed a Menahga resident along with Mayor Joan Liimatta.

• Learned that the Wadena County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. April 18 at the county courthouse to consider an amendment to the zoning ordinance.

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