Former public works director resigned after credit card purchase investigation, city records show

By Grace McCarthy

City of Blaine records show former public works director Bernard “Bernie” Ziemianek was asked to resign July 12 after allegedly using a city credit card to purchase over $ 4,000 of personal items.

A question on one of Ziemianek’s purchases from a public works employee spurred the city to begin investigating the former public works director in late June, according to records obtained by The Northern Light. The investigation showed potential misuse of city funds from March to July on tools and equipment that the public works department wouldn’t have needed and were missing. Interim city manager Dave Wilbrecht asked Ziemianek to resign immediately on July 12. Ziemianek submitted his resignation letter and repaid the city the next day. The city submitted its investigation to the Washington state auditor’s office as required by law.

“The Blaine police department has not opened an investigation into this matter at this juncture,” Wilbrecht wrote in a statement. “With that being said, I cannot speculate if there will or will not be an investigation in the future.”

The city began investigating Ziemianek on June 27 when a public works employee asked city staff where to write down a $ 1,203 Dewalt electric concrete grinder that Ziemianek purchased on his city credit card. The employee’s name was redacted from public records due to whistleblower protection.

City finance director Daniel Heverling asked public works staff about the purchase. A public works employee said he didn’t ask Ziemianek to purchase the concrete grinder nor did he know its location. The employee also said the purchase was strange because public works doesn’t use an electric concrete grinder. Heverling emailed Ziemianek and asked about the grinder purchase but Ziemianek never responded, according to an investigation Heverling conducted.

Heverling looked at Ziemianek’s other credit card transactions and found eight purchases totaling over $ 7,600 from October 2021 to July 1 that were “inappropriate and odd.” Ziemianek paid the city $ 4,150 on July 13 for:

• A $ 98 brace for stand purchased on July 1;

• $ 597 miter saw purchased on June 30;

• $ 253 booth purchased on June 28;

• $ 1,203 Dewalt electric concrete grinder purchased on May 10;

• $ 983 for four building code handbooks purchased on March 8;

• $ 1,014 for five plumbing code handbooks purchased on March 8.

“I will reimburse the city for […] to get all of this behind me, ”Ziemianek wrote in an email to Heverling. “If my math is correct, I will make a check out for $ 4,150.27.”

Ziemianek didn’t pay for a $ 2,900 Autel MaxiSys MS909 Intelligent Diagnostic tool purchased on November 28, 2021. He said former city manager Michael Jones was aware of the transaction and it was being used to fix generators, Heverling wrote in his investigation.

A public works employee said the diagnostic tool was the only purchase the department would use but it was also missing. A public works employee who works in the tool shop said he’d never seen the diagnostic tool, Heverling wrote.

Two public works employees told Heverling they didn’t need the books and the building code books would be a purchase for the planning department. A public works employee said Ziemianek could be using the books and tools for personal use because he was remodeling his home di lui, according to the city investigation.

Another public works employee told Heverling he knew of several times when Ziemianek used city resources for personal use. Ziemianek wrote on the backup for each credit card purchase that it was needed for city use and provided specific examples.

City policy states the public works director has authority to sign off on tool and equipment purchases but not to buy those items. Only operational staff should buy the materials to ensure proper segregation of duties and because they have more knowledge on purchasing needs, Heverling wrote in the investigation. Ziemianek’s alleged purchases also shouldn’t have been made on a credit card for security reasons.

Heverling, Wilbrecht and deputy city manager Sam Crawford scheduled a July 7 meeting with Ziemianek to ask about the charges. Ziemianek allegedly seemed confused about the credit card purchases when he and Heverling discussed the meeting earlier that day, Heverling wrote.

“Bernie paused and thought about it for a few minutes and then stated that these were personal charges and he made a mistake putting these on his city credit card. He nervously stated that he has his credit card numbers memorized and accidentally put this card into the computer when making the charges, ”the investigation reads. “Bernie uses his personal email address and personal Amazon account and he had the items shipped to the public works location. The same vendor was used also for the personal charges and the business charges. This appears to be a pattern that is an important link to show that the business charges were potentially items that he is using personally, which is why they are missing. “

Ziemianek allegedly told Heverling he was having trouble keeping up with inventory while attending his wife’s medical appointments and many packages could go missing when delivered during the weekend. A public works employee said packages are not sent to the building during the weekend, Heverling wrote.

“He seemed nervous and rambled a bit about trying to keep all of his credit cards figured out,” Heverling wrote. “The whole conversation was odd and he appeared nervous.”

During the July 7 meeting, Ziemianek said he purchased the items without direction from staff. Ziemianek allegedly said the three most recent purchases – a brace, saw and stand – were personal and accidentally charged to his city credit card.

Ziemianek told the city officials that he used city equipment to fix an outdoor structure in his yard and that he received a t-handle tool when he called public works about a water problem at his home.

Wilbrecht placed Ziemianek on administrative leave and appointed maintenance and operation supervisor Gary McSpadden as acting public works director. City council then discussed Ziemianek in executive session during its July 11 meeting, according to an email Wilbrecht sent city staff and council. Wilbrecht asked Ziemianek to resign the next day.

The state auditor’s office began reviewing city records after the city reported the issue, spokesperson Kathleen Cooper wrote in an email to The Northern Light.

“It is our practice not to comment on audits or investigations until they are complete,” Cooper wrote. She added she couldn’t provide an estimate on how long the investigation would take.

Ziemianek wrote in an email to The Northern Light that he began purchasing numerous items to make his home more accessible after his wife broke her ankle while having a stroke in February. He said he used the city card to pay for professional engineer courses and other material required for his job by lui and either accidentally selected the city card or PayPal had the city card assigned as his last preferred purchase by lui.

“Once these were brought to my attention I paid them quickly and without hesitation. I have and had no reason for Blaine to pay for any of my personal purchases, ”Ziemianek wrote. “Afterwards I deleted the Blaine CC from PayPal so I never would have that mistake again.”

Ziemianek said he resigned suddenly because his wife needed aortic bypass surgery.

“I made a quick decision that my wife now needs all my devoted time. Keep in mind I always told Blaine that I was taking the job just for a short period (a few years) to help them out, ”he wrote. “Unfortunately, my time needed to be cut short by a major family need. I regret the fast decision but things on my wife’s medical needs were turning faster. “

Ziemianek had been employed with the city since December 2020 after working at Seattle City Light. His salary of him was $ 120,360.

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