City of Westby Clerk-Treasurer Mary Holte was placed on unpaid suspension on Monday, Feb. 5, for operating a separate business out of her office, while on the clock for the city of Westby.
Evidence presented in open session at the regular monthly Westby City Council meeting on Feb. 6 revealed that Holte had been conducting managerial duties, related to the management of Scenic View Apartments in Westby, during her regular employment hours as clerk-treasurer for the city.
As the Westby City Clerk-Treasurer, Holte was a full-time employee (40 hours per week) and according to a contract found on the Westby server her position as the Scenic View Apartment Site Manager required her to work 15-20 hours per week.
Mayor Dan Helgerson provided irrefutable evidence at the Feb. 6 meeting that Holte has been storing documents related to her management duties for Scenic View Apartments on the city owned server since 2011.
Holte was also using city owned equipment to process the documents and had printed thousands of hard copies as back-up, which she stored in her office file cabinets. She was also using the Westby City Hall deposit drop box as a depository for Scenic View Apartment tenants to make monthly rent payments.
Helgerson said shortly after becoming Mayor in 2015, he learned of Holte’s possible misconduct violation and informed her directly to cease all aspects of operating the Scenic View Apartment business on city employment time immediately, which Helgerson said Holte promised to do.
At the open session meeting Holte maintains that Helgerson told her Scenic View Apartment tenants could no longer conduct business inside Westby City Hall, but that he never told her to cease the actual running of the business out of Westby City Hall.
Helgerson responded that that recitation is false and that he told her to stop all Scenic View work out of her office.
Then two years later, while Helgerson was initiating a separate investigation into possible time sheet fraud, involving Holte, he learned she was still conducting the Scenic View Apartment business out of her city hall office, which led to a larger scale investigation.
Helgerson contacted the Westby Police Department in October 2017, to begin an investigation into whether or not Holte was leaving work early on Friday afternoons, without prior supervisory approval or documenting her unworked hours. During that investigation Helgerson overheard a conversation where he learned that Holte was still conducting Scenic View Apartment business out of Westby City Hall.
“She moved it out of my sight, but never stopped doing Scenic View business while on the city clock,” Helgerson said.
With Westby Legal Counsel David Abt and Nikki Swayne involved an in-depth IT investigation was conducted on Holte’s city-owned computer. The investigations uncovered hundreds of Scenic View Apartment business documents, including spreadsheets, budgets, work orders and financial statements, along with hundreds of additional emails stored on the Westby city server cloud, but related to Scenic View Apartments. Further investigation showed time stamped proof that the Scenic View Apartment business documents were worked on during hours she was employed as Westby City Clerk-Treasurer.
Legal Counsel said the hundreds of items already recovered were only part of a preliminary search of the Westby city server and are potentially only a fraction of what is actually stored in the cloud.
Holte was suspended on Monday morning, Feb. 5. She was also provided a letter that the suspension would be discussed during open session of the Feb. 6 meeting.
Helgerson said typically personnel related items are discussed in closed session, but since Holte’s position as clerk-treasurer is an appointed position the rules relating to any misconduct related to the person holding an appointed office are different.
The entire investigation into Holte’s actions was kept away from the rest of the city council until the Feb. 6 meeting. Being kept in the dark was a definite point of frustration by city council members at the Feb. 6 meeting, as they tried to digest all the evidence being presented against a long time employee.
Helgerson, along with the Westby Police Department said keeping the investigation as quiet as possible was the only way to prevent potential evidence from disappearing. Furthermore as Mayor, Helgerson had the authority to hold the meeting in open session since the clerk-treasurer position is appointed and she is paid with taxpayer dollars.
Despite Legal Counsel hammering the fact that what Holte was doing was illegal, city council members tabled any further action against Holte until the next Westby City Council meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20. That meeting may include an evidentiary hearing.
Holte was appointed as the Westby City Clerk-treasurer in October 2007. She remains on unpaid suspension.
Holte had not returned a call to the Westby Times prior to publication of this article.