Toohey Says Inside Experience Is His Edge

Patrick Toohey at the Brentwood Board of Aldermen meeting on March 16 at City Hall. (Photo by Steve Bowman)
Patrick Toohey at the Brentwood Board of Aldermen meeting on March 16 at City Hall. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Auditing, aldermanic experience would guide him as mayor

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Editor’s note: This article on mayoral candidate Patrick Toohey will be followed in the coming days by articles on candidates Mark Wilson and Chris Thornton.

Patrick Toohey's mayoral campaign photo.
Patrick Toohey’s mayoral campaign photo.

Of the three men who are running for mayor of Brentwood in the April 7 election, Patrick Toohey has the most experience serving in our local government. A few years ago a campaigning insider here might not have boasted about that, as Brentwood was in the midst of a scandal in which City Administrator Chris Seemayer was arrested for embezzlement.

But Toohey can rightfully claim that he was elected to the board of aldermen in 2012, after Seemayer left. In fact, the turmoil at city hall was a big reason why he ran to represent Ward 4 in the first place.

Now he is running for election on three words: knowledge, experience and vision. Knowledge from working in accounting, auditing and financial services for 14 years. Experience that includes three years as an alderman. And a vision that includes an operational audit and a comprehensive plan.

Swimming in Brentwood

Patrick, 38, grew up in University City as the second of three sons to Michael and Mary Ann Toohey. His ties to Brentwood started early. His mother counseled parents in the Brentwood School District as an employee for Parents As Teachers. His father was a sales manager for Jefferson Savings and Loan, which owned the Brentwood Forest condominiums.

“My parents bought a condo in there and we had pool passes,” Toohey recalled with a smile. “I remember what the old Brentwood Square and the city looked like when Evans Place was here.”

Jefferson Savings and Loan sold its stake in Brentwood Forest during the S&L crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s. By then Toohey had graduated from CBC High School and was off to college. He attended Truman State for three semesters before returning home to finish a degree in business administration at UMSL in 2000.

“I just wasn’t a small-town guy,” he said, “and Truman State, being in Kirksville, was difficult for me.”

Toohey (left) shown with mayoral candidates Mark Wilson (center) and Chris Thornton at a public forum for the candidates on March 18 at the Brentwood School District Administrative Center. (Photo by Steve Bowman)
Toohey (left) shown with mayoral candidates Mark Wilson (center) and Chris Thornton at a public forum for the candidates on March 18 at the Brentwood School District Administrative Center. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Accounting then finance

After five years as an accountant for Bryan Cave then PricewaterhouseCoopers, he took a risk and became an assistant controller for a small startup in the Central West End. It lasted less than a year but he doesn’t regret it.

“There was some risk involved and they might make it, might not,” he said. “But I thought I’d be okay if it doesn’t work out because I’d done public accounting and was finishing up my CPA license.”

So he started a two-and-a-half-year stint doing internal audits for AT&T, where “I realized you need both types of audits – financial and operational.”

But in 2010 he switched gears and became a financial advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors. It wasn’t such a big jump, as five years earlier he had begun to specialize in financial audits at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Auditing is not what I wanted to do career-wise,” he said. “I always had a passion for financial services.”

Toohey currently works as a licensed banker in South County.

“I talk to individuals and small businesses about their banking needs — checking accounts, CDs, deposits, lending, financial planning,” he said. “I figure out what’s the best channel for them.”

Brentwood Forest

Toohey started renting a Brentwood Forest condominium in 2000 and bought it nine years later. The development had long since been sold by his father’s employer during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s. Patrick was voted onto the Brentwood Forest Board of Managers, which instituted a rule limiting the number of units that could be rented out. The action was driven by the federal government’s decision to deny FHA lending to prospective buyers at Brentwood Forest if more than half of the units were occupied by renters instead of owners.

“Even though it was my original intention to one day rent out my condo, I voted to implement that rental cap that I knew made me stuck there for a while,” said Toohey. “I knew I was putting myself personally in a difficult situation but it was a better thing for the community so we could keep the lending and the long-term sales in there.”

Toohey has lived at Brentwood Forest since 2000. This photo is from last October.(Photo by Steve Bowman)
Toohey has lived at Brentwood Forest since 2000. This photo is from last October.(Photo by Steve Bowman)

Board of aldermen

In 2012 Toohey was elected to the Brentwood Board of Aldermen to help represent Ward 4, a term that expires next April. He joined less than a year after Seemayer was arrested for embezzling city money.

“People don’t realize I was as mad as anyone else,” Toohey said. “I let the things I read in the media affect my opinion and I decided I was going to run for alderman. With my accounting background, I understood financial audits and operational audits and I thought I could lend something.”

But getting an insider’s view tempered his initial anger.

“As I started to understand what had happened, a lot of it was much grayer and not as black and white as people thought,” he said. “The city just grew a little faster than the business practices. It doesn’t make it okay, but I don’t think there was as much fraudulent corruption as people thought.”

Toohey speaks with a Brentwood resident after the mayoral candidate forum.
Toohey speaks with a Brentwood resident after the mayoral candidate forum.

The interview

Following are excerpts from The Brentwood Spirit’s interview with Toohey.

Why are you running for mayor? What do you offer?

Toohey: “The advantage I bring is that I have experience but I don’t have the legacy of when the city wasn’t operating efficiently. There are a lot of things the city does really well, like snow removal, our trash gets picked up, recycling, great fire and police. But there are some things that could be cleaned up and made more efficient. And we need to get back to long-term planning and not fighting over the past. That’s why I decided to run. My greatest fear I see for the city as an alderman is that we are going to lose sight of long-term planning and fighting over piddly issues.”

“Also, it’s a two-year term. So we can’t afford to have someone figuring out how a job works for that first year. We need someone that can come in on day 1. I’m not saying there won’t be a learning curve with me, but I understand how the city works and I know the employees.”

How would you run a board of aldermen meeting?

Toohey: “The mayor is the facilitator of the meeting. My opinion is let everyone get the facts out. If they start personally going at it, stop it and say let’s get back to the points here. What’s your opinion? What’s your opinion? The mayor can comment but I don’t think the mayor needs to dominate the show. I think that’s something we’re not getting.”

So you would be less vocal than Mayor Pat Kelly is in board meetings?

Toohey: “Yes. Let’s hear from the aldermen a little bit more. Sometimes I see in people’s eyes, or get the sense, that some aldermen have some reservations and questions but they just don’t want to bring it up because of the acrimony. Sometimes, too, we realize that we’re never going to get out of there. At some point the debate has to end and a vote has to be taken. I would like to hear from the quieter aldermen a little bit. If you have reservations about issues, I think you should speak them. I would ask the aldermen, too, ‘If you’re going to vote against something, if possible please explain why.’ It’s for two reasons. One, you might have a concern that someone can address for you. You also might raise a concern someone else had and they just weren’t sure whether they should bring it up or not, and now [after hearing you] their vote might change.”

You’ve said board meetings are too long. Should aldermen not ask detailed questions about issues?

Toohey: “There’s certain homework that should be done before the meetings. We all have the city administrator’s phone number. We can call and get a lot of these questions vetted before the meeting. To me transparency means everyone knows how you voted. If someone wants to ask why you voted that way, you answer it. I don’t think transparency is showing the thought process out loud. Now if people want to see that because they’re concerned with something, that’s fine. But I think showing you can be the one who asks the most questions doesn’t help anyone because attendance at these meetings has been dwindling.” I see that at Brentwood Forest. When you want to have every point brought out at a public meeting, when the meetings are three-plus hours, people don’t want to go. But if you can knock it out in 90 minutes I think we have greater participation from the residents.”

You’ve said there’s too much “rancorous behavior in aldermanic meetings.” If that’s true, what causes it?

Toohey: “I think the acrimony came from some individuals basically using the Seemayer scandal for opportunity to create their own name. I could have come on the board as a CPA and said to those who’ve been on the board ‘How dare you for letting this happen.’ But since I’ve come on I’ve always said, ‘Let’s let the past be the past, and move forward.’ If there’s criminal wrongdoing, let’s go after it, and I signed the petition for the state audit. But there was no criminal activity. At that point the question is how much money you want to keep spending on it. The auditor said a lot of it was poor recordkeeping. So how can you make decisions on what happened if there are no records? You could use conspiracy theories and come up with hypotheticals, but at the end of the day I didn’t believe there was ever any evidence. Those who wanted deeper audits, I said, ‘Can you set a scope?’ I never heard an answer. I just heard this catchphrase: forensic audit, forensic audit. How far are we going to go back? That one-year audit cost us $70,000 to $80,000. That’s a lot of money to start guessing.”

As the mayor, how would you work to improve relations among board members?

Toohey: I’ll sit down with each alderman individually and ask what are the one or two items you really want to see accomplished. I won’t be able to promise it gets done, but let’s see where we can build some consensus by having one-on-one conversations. If another alderman is against you, perhaps I can talk to them about how you can help each other with your items.”

You’ve said that you started to get pulled into the infighting on the board but changed after a talk with alderman Lee Wynn. What happened?

Toohey: “People like to throw accusations, whisper campaigns, that Pat Kelly put me up to run, that he and my old boss John Lamping were friends. [Alderwoman] Maurine Saunders made those accusations at a Ways and Means meeting. … I have challenged her on that and I said if anyone can ever prove that, I’ll resign from the board of aldermen. There was no connection. It shows that someone was actually doing background research on me to know where I used to work and who my old boss was, and they thought they’d found this connection with Kelly. It’s very disturbing. So that was really eating away at me and Lee just said to me, ‘Look, there’s nothing these people can do to really hurt you. Just go to the meetings and as long as you vote your conscience and what you believe in, don’t worry about it.’ It made a lot of sense. That’s when I realized to not take this stuff personally.”

We’ve heard residents say they want a mayor who serves residents more and businesses less. A disclosure last month showed that all your campaign contributions came from businesses: $1,000 from the American Subcontractors Association, $1,000 from Don Musick and $100 from the Association of General Contractors. Does that mean you’re going to serve businesses more than residents?

Toohey: “No. That report came out before I had any campaign events and I have received donations from residents prior to it and since. The only Brentwood business was Don Musick. If you read the section on the TIFs in the state audit, he really lost out on the misappropriation of funds because of poor accounting practices. It only makes sense he wants to support the CPA running who is devoted to internal controls. As for the other two contributors, I’m actually a member of the AGC and the ASA; that had nothing to do with Brentwood. The ASA are plumbers, roofers, etc., and their only agenda is they want to see things like electrical and plumbing codes be more universal statewide, so they encourage members to run for office.”

“As far as my philosophy of the business owner. I think that we have enough financial resources here in our location that we can keep the development north of Deer Creek and tightly along the Brentwood Boulevard and Manchester Road corridors, I don’t see why development ever has to infringe on the residents. But the reason we can exist as Brentwood is because of that commercial development. We have a small tax base. If you want to hire a city administrator, a police chief, a fire chief, etc., you have to pay about the same rate as their equivalent positions in the other municipalities. We don’t have 20,000 people like Kirkwood does so we need this retail to generate the sales tax.”

A Brentwood mayor has a two-year term. What would you work on first?

Toohey: “Mostly focus on behaviors and consensus, and getting the board to work together on the smaller issues. Then in the second year we could really start looking at the comprehensive plan – coming up with a long-term plan on how we want Brentwood to look in the future.”

“But I do have some operational goals. I’d like to create more written policies and procedures. … As aldermen we don’t really have a way of monitoring how these procedures are followed. … I think that’s one of the reasons for some of the issues with Chris Seemayer. The city kind of fell into bad practices and the aldermen didn’t know their policies weren’t being followed. My solution for that is to get the policies documented so there’s no excuse for an alderman not to know the policies and procedures. And at the same time, hire an outside accounting firm to do an operational audit – the aldermen could pick the topics. I’d also like to get an audit committee made up of residents who have an auditing background, with maybe an attorney or two. Have them review the policies and procedures and make sure they don’t conflict with state statute. Then [have the accounting firm] go out and test the various areas of the city and make sure we are following policies and procedures. That report would then go to the board and the audit committee. The point of having that audit committee is if they see aldermen aren’t acting on it they say, ‘Hey, the board is not following the recommendations of the auditors.’ … You can’t audit the whole city every year but you could set up a three- to five-year rotation where you’d cover the major departments.”

There’s a lot of talk about St. Louis County taking control of smaller municipalities. Will that ever happen to Brentwood?

Toohey: “Some of these municipalities are struggling financially. Look at Brentwood’s budget and only 2 percent is coming from fines – and that’s all fines, not just traffic. We’re in such a strong financial position that as long as residents want to be our own municipality, I don’t see why we have to think about merger, as long as we remain financially strong. My philosophy on the merger is: If it’s in the residents’ best interest and they ever wanted to, I’d go along with it, but I don’t ever see that happening here.”

Learn more about Toohey on his campaign website.

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