POTTERVILLE, MI (WLNS) – During a special meeting Tuesday night, the Potterville City Council voted unanimously to remove its city manager, Wanda Darrow, after details of an investigation into her performance were laid out by the city’s attorney.
Darrow has been suspended for about a month while investigators looked into whether she committed any wrongdoing while in office, made misrepresentations to the city council, neglected her duties as city manager, or violated the City’s Code and Charter.
The complaint that prompted the investigation dealt with Darrow’s son, Eddie Darrow III, who worked for the city. There were allegations that he stole equipment from the city and that Wanda Darrow knew or should have known about the thefts or concealed the thefts after the fact.
The findings of that investigation were enough for the Potterville city council to remove her with cause, rejecting her resignation letter, which was read to the council by her attorney Tuesday night.
Foster Swift conducted the investigation and Michael Homier, Potterville’s city attorney, summarized the findings into a 15-page report.
According to that report, the city reviewed documents and statements showing that at least 50 payments were made to Darrow’s son, Eddie Darrow III and two of his friends, Erik and Lukas Lager, from the city’s bank accounts “funded in whole, or in part, from bond proceeds received from the United States Department of Agriculture’s rural development program.”
The payments, $24,091 worth, were made between March and June of this year and were not authorized by the department or by the city council.
Based on the sequence of checks, the city believes 29 checks are still missing or are unaccounted for from the RD/Community Facilities account.
Around the same time Darrow was suspended, the report says an “unknown person (or more than one unknown person) made $21,628.00 worth of deposits from July18-23rd.
“At last count the city was shorted about 2,400 but there may have since been other deposits made into those accounts,” Homier said.
The report also said that when the City Clerk first learned about the checks, she inquired with Darrow about them, citing the fact that they were written out of sequence and noticed that the checks were written in smaller amounts, which isn’t typically how they’re written.
“The City Manager later told the City Clerk that the checks were “bank errors.”
The checks are “purportedly signed by the City Manager and by Council Member Douglas Hartson,” however the report says that it is unclear whether the City Manager signed the checks or whether her signature was forged.
“Member Hartson believe that his signature was forged,” it says. “It is unlikely the City Manager participated directly in the issuance of the checks.”
Darrow was not at Tuesday night’s meeting; instead her attorney appeared on her behalf.
She said Darrow denies any wrongdoing as it relates to the issuing of the checks to her son and his friends.
The attorney also read more than a dozen letters of support for Darrow, written by members of the community.
Many said that Darrow genuinely cared about the city of Potterville, was a dedicated public official, and spearheaded several projects within the city that helped make it a better place.
Council members acknowledged the good Darrow has done, but said those positive actions do not erase what she’s been accused of and what the investigation found.
As it relates to allegations of stolen city equipment by Darrow’s son, security video footage revealed the following:
- On a Monday morning in June 2018, DPW Director Don Stanley discovered several items missing from the DPW garage, including a cordless impact wrench and a gas-powered weed trimmer. Stanley approached the City Manager, who advised that Eddie and Ross Kemp had been in the DPW garage over the weekend to do some work. The City Manager reportedly said,“Don’t blame Eddie” with regard to the missing items. The City Manager later called Stanley and said that she had called Eddie and that he claimed he did not take the items.
- On July 4, 2018, video footage shows Eddie and another individual with a City-owned generator in Eddie’s truck. DPW Director Don Stanley discovered the generator missing from the DPWgarage on July 5, 2018, and contacted the City Manager. The City Manager reportedly checked with Eddie and said that Eddie did not take the generator.
- Also on July 4, 2018, video footage shows Eddie removing cases of soda pop from the concession stand at the ball field.
- Also on July 4, 2018, video footage shows Eddie attempting to use a credit or some other card to unlock doors inside City Hall. After gaining access to the City Clerk’s office, the video shows Eddie rummaging through the City Clerk’s desk, and eventually taking a bucket of car wash supplies that were intended to be a raffle prize for a cancelled City event.
- The thefts were reported to the Michigan State Police. Subsequently, an MSP detective informed Stanley that the missing equipment – specifically, the hedge trimmer, impact wrench, and generator – had been located at pawn shops in the Lansing area. It was also discovered that two City pitching machines from the ballfields had been stolen, but were subsequently recovered.
- The City Manager reportedly told Stanley that she had “taken care of it” and that Stanley could pick up the items. Stanley went to Dicker and Deal and found that someone had redeemed (paid for) the pawned impact wrench and trimmer, so Stanley collected them from the pawn shop. Stanley also went to Capital Discount Cash, which had the generator. That item had not been redeemed, but the pawn shop released it to Stanley without payment.
“It is unclear how Eddie gained access to City Hall, the DPW garage, and the ball fields,” the report says. “It is possible that Eddie saw the access codes in Chris Zenker’s desk at the DPW garage. It is also possible that someone gave Eddie access to the buildings.”
Citing several emails with city officials, the investigation also concluded that it “does not appear that the City Manager reported the thefts, or her redemption of some of the stolen items, to City Council”
In one email, documents show that Darrow told the city’s mayor that “[t]here has been a situation regarding an employee, please be advised this matter has been resolved.”
Darrow also asked that the information be kept confidential.
In addition, records show that during an interview with the Michigan State Police and the City Police Chief in early July 5, Darrow was presented with evidence of her son, Eddie’s alleged involvement in the thefts.
“During that interview, the City Manager stated that she would “prefer that this stuff keep [sic] confidential . . . just because of the situation with council, I don’t want to get blamed for anything,” the report said.
During the meeting Tuesday night, Darrow’s attorney told the council that the Michigan State Police are not looking into actions related to Wanda, and instead, her son and his two friends.
6 News checked with MSP Detective First/Lt. Tom DeClercq, who is leading the investigation, to find out whether authorities are looking into Wanda as part of their investigation.
“As investigators continued to look into allegations of larceny as it relates to Eddie Darrow, detectives became aware of potential criminal wrongdoing by Wanda Darrow relative to her son, Eddie’s investigation,” DeClercq said in a statement.
He declined to comment any further citing a pending investigation.
Since Darrow was removed from office with cause, the City Charter allows her to be paid accrued sick time. She has been suspended with pay since last month, and will get paid through Tuesday, August 28th.
6 News will be sure to let you know what comes out of the State Police investigation as soon as it wraps up.
In the meantime, Potterville’s city attorney says the city will soon be looking for a new city manager.