The old cliche goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” This week, we feel we’ve been fooled more than once by Richard Brunst, and shame on him for doing so.
A week ago today, Orem’s mayor, Richard Brunst, was cleared of criminal intent of misuse of retirement funds and potential forgery and malfeasance by the Utah County Attorney’s Office.
As an editorial board, we were initially glad to hear this, because it meant that Brunst’s actions were made in honest error and the mayor wasn’t doing anything really illegal. The intent, according to the county attorney, wasn’t there.
And then just this week, our tunes have changed as more information concerning this entire situation has come forth. To be honest, we’re questioning the county attorney’s statement and the degree to which Brunst was knowingly committing illegal acts.
To provide some background on this unfortunate situation, on Aug. 1, the Orem City Council announced that since 2017, Brunst had been altering dates on requests for retirement withdrawals, was making multiple unauthorized requests using forged documents and the City Council suspected Brunst was doing so knowing that he was violating city code.
Brunst fired back, saying it was an honest mistake, and apologized for any perceived criminal misconduct.
The Utah County Attorney’s Office announced on Sept. 19 that they leaned towards Brunst, and did not believe that a jury could, beyond a reasonable doubt, find Brunst had criminal intent.
Again, we breathed a slight sigh of relief at this news, though we knew Genelle Pugmire had multiple GRAMA requests outstanding with regards to Brunst’s conduct, including information about how frequently these requests from his account were.
According to city code, Brunst could withdraw from his retirement account twice a year. According to information from the outside attorneys hired by the Orem City Council, Brunst made 13 unauthorized withdrawals from his account since 2017. He repeatedly altered dates, used personal means to send request forms to his retirement account manager — rather than doing so through city HR as per city policies — and even asked city HR employees to “sign new forms” to submit to his 401(k) account, essentially implicating city employees in committing forgery for him.
These revelations were quite a bombshell to us, so much so that we attached the report to this story.
Many have not felt this way because they believe that since it is his money, he has the right to do with it what he wants.
But the issue at large here isn’t just that he tried to subvert policies and codes to get to his money at irregular periods. Brunst tried to play dumb when the news broke of his behaviors, but there is absolutely no way that he committed these acts without knowing it was wrong. Employees were uncomfortable with his actions and we likewise feel uncomfortable in his decision-making ability if he felt he could continue such a reckless pattern and get away with it. Just because David Leavitt’s office somehow found this behavior wasn’t illegal doesn’t mean it was ethical.
Orem City Council’s attorney said in her report, “It is my understanding that numerous council members have asked for the mayor’s resignation, which he declined … In my opinion, this would have been the best solution.”
But we’re sure Brunst isn’t going to resign because he needs the money. This entire situation stemmed from him needing the money.
We are not going to say Brunst should resign. There are already enough voices from within his own city making such assertions. But we do believe now, Orem residents need to speak up if this kind of conduct makes them uncomfortable. It is extremely disheartening that a mayor of one of Utah County’s cities knowingly acted in such a manner and encouraged other employees to participate in his reckless disregard for city code. And when confronted, Brunst passed the buck, saying he was never instructed that he was breaking city code.
Our apologies, Brunst, but we highly doubt that, and as said by Thomas Jefferson, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
If a city employee is refusing to break a law for you, and you had to use your own resources to alter dates and fax documents from a FedEx, rather than the city-approved means, it’s probably because you’re doing something inappropriate, and we frankly commend the HR employee who refused to aide Brunst in his quest to defraud his retirement fund and fool the citizens of Orem.
We ask Brunst to come clean and provide accurate and honest information about why he repeatedly committed forgery, and we ask the citizens of Orem to ponder if they truly want someone who is dishonest and deceptive governing their city.