A small community’s annual Heritage Day festival suffered a setback with word that the town’s mayor has been accused of embezzling more than $13,000 from the citizens committee that runs the event.
Dayton Mayor Timothy McNeil, 54, had been regularly taking money out of the celebration’s checking account and depositing it into his personal account, according to the criminal complaint. Although he had repaid $4,500, $8,710 is still missing.
“People in positions of trust, especially elected officials, have an absolute duty to conduct the people’s business in a manner that is above reproach,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
The west metro suburb’s Heritage Day is funded through donations, and it’s unclear what the financial impact will be on this year’s festival.
The missing money, discovered by the group’s treasurer, was used to pay phone and cable bills, according to the charges.
The Heritage Day committee is not part of the city of Dayton, and no city funds are involved, said City Administrator Tina Goodroad. However, the city will follow the criminal proceedings and will take necessary and appropriate action as the circumstances and outcome dictate, she said. She referred questions about the allegations to the county attorney’s office.
McNeil said he was unaware of the criminal complaint until Monday morning and intends to “have a response when I know more.” He said he hadn’t hired an attorney yet.
He was charged by summons Friday with felony theft by swindle. Jay Squires, the city attorney for Dayton, didn’t return a telephone call asking for comment.
City Council Members Jon Mellberg and Dennis Fisher declined to comment. The other two City Council members, Bob O’Brien and Julie Gustafson, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The state Constitution includes a process for impeachment, recall or removal from office for legislators; the governor and lieutenant governor; the secretary of state, state auditor and attorney general; Supreme Court justices and other judges, and county officials. But there is no provision for city officials.
September’s annual Heritage Day festivities, which have been held for the past 40 years, include a community lunch, kids’ fun run, parade, car show, talent show and other entertainment.
Dayton is a city of 5,300 residents that sits on the Mississippi River. Under McNeil’s tenure, the city has seen tremendous growth. In the past two years in Hennepin County, only Plymouth has seen more housing construction.
McNeil was on Dayton’s Parks Commission and on the City Council from 2006 to 2012. He was elected mayor in 2014 and re-elected last year, beating Andrew Gfrerer by 147 votes. He co-founded the city’s historical society and was chairman of Heritage Day.
McNeil’s name was added in April 2015 to the bank account for the Dayton Heritage Day Committee, which consists of volunteers who plan the annual festival.
At some point afterward, committee member and treasurer Sandra Borders tried but could not check the bank statements electronically. She obtained paper statements and discovered that McNeil had taken money from the account, the criminal complaint states.
When Borders confronted him, McNeil said it was a mix-up with his personal bank card. Borders insisted he pay it back, and he gave her $500 in September 2017, even though she estimated he had taken about $10,000, the complaint said. He told her that he was working a minimum-wage job and was unable to pay back the money. The mayor of Dayton makes $6,000 a year.
In 2018, Borders confronted McNeil again, this time in front of other committee members. He said he had the money, although he needed to hold onto it in case something happened to his car. In September, he paid $4,000.
Borders unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2018.
An examination of the bank records for the Heritage Days account and McNeil’s personal bank account indicated that beginning in October 2015, McNeil would regularly withdraw between $1,000 and $2,000 from the Heritage Days account and deposit that money into his account on the same day.
McNeil used nearly $775 of the money to pay a Sprint phone bill and another $386 to pay Charter Communications for cable television. He repaid $4,500 and remains responsible for more than $8,710 in missing money, the criminal complaint said. It’s unclear what happened to the rest of the money.