Metro-East News

Prenzler: Board chairman used county card for personal purchases

Kurt Prenzler
Kurt Prenzler

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan used his county-issued credit card to make personal or unauthorized purchases, his political opponent, Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, said Friday.

Dunstan denied the accusation, saying Prenzler was trying to deflect negative attention from himself and using an issue in the news lately for his own political gain.

Prenzler, a Republican, will face Dunstan, a Democrat, in November in the race for County Board chairman.

“The chairman used his county-issued credit card to make at least 14 personal purchases, including flying his wife to Washington, D.C.,” Prenzler said. “Other county officials who are issued a credit card don’t appear to charge personal expenses, but for some reason the county’s top elected official operates under a different set of rules.”

In a statement responding to Prenzler’s charges, Dunstan said specifically the plane ticket for his wife was placed on the county credit card because it was necessary to book the flight for the couple together. No county money was used for the payment of the plane ticket, he said, noting that a personal check was sent directly to the credit card company.

In every instance cited by Prenzler, Dunstan said he attached a check, made payable to Card Member Services, to the receipt that was submitted to the county Auditor’s Office.

“There were absolutely no payments made by Madison County for any personal or non-reimbursable expenses,” he said.

Prenzler acknowledged that the records show Dunstan reimbursed the county, although the Auditor’s Office did not provide copies of the checks in all cases. Nevertheless, Dunstan should never have used the county credit card to make personal purchases in the first place, he said.

“This is exactly what the former Collinsville city clerk and current councilwoman did,” Prenzler said. “... This is about public trust.”

The chairman used his county-issued credit card to make at least 14 personal purchases, including flying his wife to Washington, D.C. Other county officials who are issued a credit card don’t appear to charge personal expenses, but for some reason the county’s top elected official operates under a different set of rules.

Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler

Prenzler’s accusation came only a few days after the News-Democrat reported that a former Collinsville official and current City Councilwoman, Cheryl Brombolich, used city credit cards and tax-free accounts to make personal purchases over a 10-year period, from 2004-14. The former city clerk and director of operations reimbursed the city for the purchases, city officials said.

Brombolich said her boss, former City Manager Scott Williams, put a disciplinary file together after she resigned in an attempt to discredit her. While the practice was against city policy, she said others in City Hall also made purchases on city cards later deemed not suitable for city funds.

The records — copies of which were provided to the News-Democrat — covered other county officeholders besides Dunstan who had access to county credit cards and encompassed thousands of pages.

Prenzler said he obtained the credit card statements through a Freedom of Information Act request with the Auditor’s Office.

“My signature is on every check that leaves the county and I was elected to keep my eyes on the money, so I have a right to know, as every citizen has a right to know,” he said Friday.

The records showed Dunstan used his county credit card for personal purchases, including the $314 flight for his wife to Washington, D.C.; two personal hotel nights prior to a conference in Chicago that Dunstan attended; a trip to Napa Valley, Calif., for a meeting with federal officials about flooding and levees, plus purchases at a Troy meat market, a department store, local restaurants and Busch Stadium.

Dunstan said the trip to Napa Valley was in 2008 for a meeting with the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies. He noted the meetings were held by Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives to address the decertification of metro-east levees and determinations of flood risk for area residents.

Dunstan said he was able to interact with FEMA and Corps officials about the then-emerging issues related to metro-east levees. He was among local officials who spearheaded a program, paid for through a new sales tax, to rehabilitate the area’s levees — a multi-year project that is expected to be completed this year.

Mr. Prenzler is being widely criticized for his discriminatory tactics against a female employee in the treasurer’s office. Since he doesn’t have any defense for the criticism, he’s grasping at anything to deflect attention from how he is mismanaging his office.

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan

He also said the allegation about taxpayers paying for two personal nights at a hotel in Chicago is “entirely false.” Dunstan said he was a member of a steering committee that required his attendance two days in advance of the scheduled start of the meeting.

“A detailed explanation of the additional nights in Chicago was addressed in correspondence that accompanied the receipt. That documentation was also provided to Mr. Prenzler who, obviously, intentionally ignored (it),” he said.

Dunstan said Prenzler is using the credit card issue as a smokescreen to take attention away from the recent court ruling.

“Mr. Prenzler is being widely criticized for his discriminatory tactics against a female employee in the treasurer’s office,” Dunstan said. “Since he doesn’t have any defense for the criticism, he’s grasping at anything to deflect attention from how he is mismanaging his office.”

Last week, a federal jury awarded a former Madison County employee $450,000 after finding that Prenzler violated federal law by firing his office’s comptroller.

The jury found that the employee, Linda Dunnagan, had an unspecified severe illness and resulting disability, and thus was protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Dunnagan filed a complaint at U.S. District Court in Benton in early December 2014, alleging Prenzler had violated the ADA when her job as comptroller was eliminated in early January 2013.

Dunnagan, who had been hired by former Treasurer Fred Bathon, a Democrat, in 2000, contended that despite a disability connected to her illness, she “was able to fully perform the essential functions of her job with defendant if provided the reasonable accommodation of an IV drip at work,” according to the complaint.

Prenzler said he plans to appeal the verdict.

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