St. Louis Public Radio News
6:03 pm
Thu January 28, 2010

State audit finds city is ignoring law on salary for public administrator

St. Louis – The latest in a series of voter-initiated audits of all St. Louis City departments finds that for the last ten years, the city has been ignoring a law that would make the public administrator a city employee.

State law allows the public administrator to either be paid his salary from the fees the office takes in, or become a city employee. When he was first elected in 2000, Gerard Nester chose to be a city employee. Ten years later he is still paying for his salary - and benefits for himself and his staff - from the fees the office takes in.

Nester's office handles the estates of residents who do not leave a will. He is also the guardian for mentally ill or disabled adults who cannot take care of themselves and have no other advocate.

"As I administer a decedent estate, I am paid a reasonable fee that the court allows as it reviews my accounting, and I can use that fee to pay the expenses of my office," Nester said. "Well, if I am guardian for someone who has no income, I have no estate against which i can charge a fee. So I have to do that work for free. The number of guardianship files I have to do for free now exceeds 300. The number of estates against which I can charge a fee is under 200. It doesn't add up."

In a request to City Hall, Nester is also seeking additional employees to make sure he can play the guardian role well.

"Right now for instance, or contact with our wards is solely through the phone and through others who may be generous to give their time to me," he said.

City officials have told Nester that they cannot afford his request. Legislation filed this year to do so has seen no legislative action since June, when it was introduced. State law also requires the city to pay benefits to employees of the Public Administrator's office, whether or not the administrator becomes a city employee. The audit found that has never happened.

But the four reviews released Thursday found no serious problems in the departments

Most of the issues from the reviews of the Recorder of Deeds, Circuit Attorney, and Office of Public Administrator had occurred in other reports issued by state Auditor Susan Montee. They include failure to follow city procurement procedures, failure to reconcile bank statements, and a lack of information about the use of city vehicles. The report on the city expenditures for the 22nd Judicial Circuit, like payroll and operating expenses, had no findings.

Many of the responses from the departments indicated that they could not afford better computer systems or other supplies to thoroughly address the problems the audits found.

Montee said her office recognizes that.

"It's very difficult to do your core functions of your office with limited resources and then expand out and do everything else," she said. "The problem is, that you need to try to do the best you can with what you have."

There are three more reports to be released; the office of the Mayor, the Sheriff, and Public Utilities. Montee said Thursday she will also release a review of the entire process, which started at the request of voters two years ago.