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

By Grace McCarthy

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

A question about one of Ziemianek’s purchases from a public works employee prompted the city to open an investigation into the former public works director in late June, according to information obtained by The Northern Light. The investigation showed potential misuse of city funds from March to July for tools and equipment that the public works department would not have needed and were missing. Acting City Manager Dave Wilbrecht called on Ziemianek to resign immediately on July 12. Ziemianek submitted his resignation letter and reimbursed 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 time,” Wilbrecht wrote in a statement. “That being said, I cannot speculate whether or not there will 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 a $1,203 Dewalt electric concrete sander that Ziemianek had purchased with his city credit card. The employee’s name has been removed from public records due to whistleblower protection.

City finance director Daniel Heverling interviewed public works staff about the purchase. A public works employee said he did not ask Ziemianek to buy the concrete grinder, nor did he know its location. The employee also said the purchase was odd because Public Works does not use electric concrete grinders. Heverling emailed Ziemianek and asked about the crusher purchase, but Ziemianek never responded, according to an investigation by Heverling.

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

• A $98 accolade for a stand purchased on July 1;

• $597 miter saw purchased on June 30;

• $253 stand bought on June 28;

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

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

• $1,014 for five plumbing code manuals purchased March 8th.

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

Ziemianek failed to pay for a $2,900 Autel MaxiSys MS909 smart diagnostic tool purchased on Nov. 28, 2021. He said former city manager Michael Jones knew about the transaction and was being used to repair generators, Heverling wrote in his survey.

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

Two public works employees told Heverling that they did not need the books and that the building code books would be a purchase for the planning department. A public works employee said Ziemianek may use the books and tools for personal use as he remodels his home, according to the city’s investigation.

Another public works employee told Heverling that he was repeatedly aware of when Ziemianek had used city resources for personal gain. Ziemianek wrote about backing up for every credit card purchase it was required for in town use and provided specific examples.

City policy states that the Director of Public Works has the authority to sign off on tool and equipment purchases, but not to purchase these items. Only operational staff should purchase the materials to ensure proper segregation of duties and because they have more knowledge of purchasing needs, Heverling wrote in the survey. Ziemianek’s alleged purchases should also not have been made with a credit card for security reasons.

Heverling, Wilbrecht and Deputy City Manager Sam Crawford have scheduled a July 7 meeting with Ziemianek to ask about the charges. Ziemianek reportedly seemed confused about credit card purchases when he and Heverling discussed meeting earlier in the day, Heverling wrote.

“Bernie stopped and thought for a few minutes, then said it was a personal charge and he had made a mistake putting it on his city credit card. He nervously said he had memorized his credit card numbers and accidentally put that card in the computer during the charge,” the survey read. “Bernie uses his personal email address and his personal Amazon account and he had the items shipped to the public works site. The same supplier was also used for personal charges and business charges. This seems to be a model that is an important link to show that business charges were potentially items that he uses personally, that’s why they are missing.

Ziemianek reportedly told Heverling that he struggled to keep track of inventory when attending his wife’s medical appointments and that many packages could go missing during delivery over the weekend. A public works employee said packages are not sent to the building over the weekend, Heverling wrote.

“He seemed nervous and wandered off a bit trying to keep all his credit cards figured out,” Heverling wrote. “The whole conversation was strange and he seemed nervous.”

At the July 7 meeting, Ziemianek said he purchased the items without the advice of staff. Ziemianek reportedly said the three most recent purchases — a splint, a saw and a bracket — were personal and accidentally charged to his city credit card.

Ziemianek told city officials he used city equipment to repair an outdoor structure in his yard and was given a T-handle tool when he called public works about a water problem. water at home.

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

The state auditor’s office began reviewing city records after the city reported the issue, spokeswoman 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 that she could not provide an estimate of how long the investigation would take.

Ziemianek wrote in an email to The Northern Light that he started buying many items to make his home more accessible after his wife broke her ankle in a stroke in February. He said he used the city card to pay for professional engineering courses and other materials needed for his job and accidentally chose the city card or PayPal was assigned the city card as his last favorite purchase.

“Once these were brought to my attention, I paid for them promptly and without hesitation. I have and had no reason for Blaine to pay for my personal purchases,” Ziemianek wrote. ‘ve deleted the Blaine CC from PayPal so I never get this error again.”

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

“I quickly decided that my wife now needed all my dedicated time. Keep in mind that I always told Blaine that I was only accepting the job for a short time (a few years) to help them out. “, he wrote. “Unfortunately, my time had to be cut short by a major family need. I regret the quick decision, but things regarding my wife’s medical needs were moving faster.

Ziemianek had worked for the city since December 2020 after working at the Seattle City Light. His salary was $120,360.

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