It is Monday night and I have just finished writing one of the sadder stories I’ve had to report in my journalism career.
On our front page this week, you see that after two years of a very tightly guarded investigation by several state and federal agencies, Guernsey’s former clerk-treasurer, Leslie Zynda, pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion on income she admitted she “improperly took from the Town of Guernsey.”
Her admission of guilt to taking $276,706 from the town finally answers questions that members of the community have had since Zynda was relieved of her duties almost two years ago.
The rumor mill went into high gear shortly after Zynda left and most comments made indicated there was money missing in large amounts from the Town’s finances.
Until now, there has not been one word of explanation from the town itself or one sentence printed in the paper covering the situation. I, for one, was very frustrated that no one could or would tell us anything. I felt the citizens had a right to know why she was fired. And beyond that, it was extremely hard for me to believe that someone I knew and had regular dealings with was capable of something that extreme, especially to the degree it was rumored to be. I have to deal with facts and reliable sources – and I wasn’t getting nor did I have either one when this came to light.
Not too far into the story, however, it was revealed that there was an official investigation and that everything related to the case had been turned over to state and federal agencies. Moreover, the mayor, clerk-treasurer, employees and council members were ordered not to say anything to anyone about the situation.
As time passed, it became more frustrating because there didn’t seem to be any discernible progress and that left many people feeling like there might not be much to the accusations. I was one of them, and due to the fact that we weren’t hearing anything and my own doubt as to Leslie being involved in something like this, I actually told our mayor one day that I didn’t think there was anything to it. Of course I knew at this point he wasn’t allowed to discuss it nor did I expect him to, but my own mind just wouldn’t let me believe that someone who I knew, worked with and trusted would do this. Based on conversations I had with many others to that point, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.
As time went on, though, I began to realize there had to be something to it. While details couldn’t be shared, I think I finally heard it enough from a variety of sources to be convinced that something legitimate was up. I finally resigned myself to the fact that time would prove out whatever it was that had or hadn’t happened. And now, that’s come to be the case.
In a meeting last Friday with the mayor and our current clerk-treasurer, I apologized to Ed for doubting what he was telling me so long ago. I explained to him that it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t believe him but the fact that I couldn’t believe Leslie had done this. Both couldn’t be true – it had to be one or the other. So for my doubt in what our mayor said at a time when he wasn’t allowed to defend it, I do apologize. Now that I know so much more of the story, I realize that expressing that doubt really wasn’t fair to him and for that, I am sorry. I wish I had been right; we wouldn’t be writing this story.
The other issue I especially wanted to address is the fact that despite the number of people who were sworn to secrecy about this from the beginning so as not to jeopardize the case, I am not aware of even one person violating that order of silence. Considering how many people that actually included, it is extremely impressive to me that nobody spoke when they shouldn’t have. To have that many people carry out something that difficult is highly commendable and deserves our respect.
Leslie’s sentencing is scheduled for May 22 in Cheyenne. It is my understanding that this is open to the public but I am going to verify that so that if you’re so inclined, you can attend if allowed. I plan to be there.
If you think the way this was prosecuted – income tax evasion as opposed to embezzlement – seems a bit odd, you share my opinion. I’m hoping some further explanation down the line will tell us why it was done that way.
The mayor said in his official statement that more details of the situation would be shared once sentencing was complete. I’m glad to hear that as I think it’s important. But the entire incident proves out how important it is that city government be an open book in any community. As we go forward from here, I hope that residents will ask more questions and become more involved in the business of running our city. I’ve already expressed to Ed and Cate how important I believe it is that residents, employees and the media can ask questions and seek information without reserve, judgment or question of motive.
Obviously there were some very big holes in our procedures and not nearly enough accountability, but at this point, I don’t think it’s to anyone’s benefit to start pointing fingers at “who should have done what” in this situation. As also mentioned in his statement, the mayor has assured us that procedures have been put in place to keep this from ever happening again. We can’t change the past and if we’ve adequately improved the way things are handled, then that should take care of preventing a repeat offense by anyone.
I think our time now is better spent moving forward in rebuilding our financial base, using our resources wisely and most importantly, keeping a constant dialogue open between the community, the council and the Town’s officials and employees. There are too many good things that I love about our community to dwell too long on a dark chapter that nobody wanted to read.
Let’s just close that book as soon as we can...and try to be good to each other.