Former Davenport Mayor Barbara Pierson is under investigation for allegedly stealing thousands from city taxpayers while acting as president of the Davenport Economic Development Council.
The Davenport Economic Development Council was founded in March 2020 with a $10,000 city grant and a goal to promote more businesses to set up shop in Davenport.
On July 6, City Manager Kelly Callihan said there was around $968 in the EDC checking account and that Pierson appeared to admit that she spent some of the public money on personal items. Callihan said he and Police Chief Larry Holden knocked on Pierson's door recently and she answered.
“Basically she understood and knew that some things possibly should not have been purchased,” Callihan said. “She agreed she would give an amount back to cover that.”
Callihan said Pierson never reimbursed the city nor provided any receipts, but the city did get access to the EDC bank account which listed all of the items purchased. When confronted about some of the items purchased, Pierson asked to leave city hall. Callihan said on June 29, the city received a letter from a criminal defense lawyer claiming to be in the process of putting together some receipts. As of July 6, none had been received, Callihan said.
Pierson resigned as mayor in 2018 after it was revealed that she had an active warrant out of Michigan for allegedly stealing public money.
“We knew she had a little bit of a history of this sort of thing,” Commissioner Tom Fellows said. “I was kind of hoping that maybe giving her a second chance, she would not make the same kind of mistakes again. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way.”
Pierson sent an email to Davenport City Clerk Rachel Castillo on May 17 stating that the Davenport Economic Development Council had dissolved “because of difficulties.” The EDC annual report was scheduled to be discussed that night.
Joyce Hunter was the other Davenport EDC council member with access to the council checking account. She said she resigned after three months for a reason. She said there was $8,900 in the account at the time she resigned.
“I knew she (Pierson) was spending money and I could never get a receipt,” Hunter said.
The city commissioners asked City Attorney Thomas Cloud for his input. Cloud recommended any evidence be turned over to 10th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brian Haas to determine whether a crime has been committed.
“Public monies were used for private purposes,” Cloud said. “That's not legal and chasing down a civil action for something like this you will spend more money than what has been lost. You are better off having this prosecuted.”
Vice Mayor Brynn Summerin said he got upset when the city of Davenport received a letter from a criminal defense lawyer in June.
“I'm extremely disappointed and I'm borderline mad,” Summerin said. “I hate this because this is an embarrassment to us,” he said a bit later.
The city commissioners instructed staff to have the police chief start a criminal investigation of the matter.
On May 17, Fellows said the EDC council members never produced a report.
“I don't know of anything they have done in the year that they have been in business to bring anybody to Davenport,” Fellows said. It's probably best to pull the plug on it and move on.”
In 2020, Pierson told the Sun that she hand-selected a council to assist her in the job of bringing commercial and industrial entities to the town. The vice director was Larry Umsteatder, the creative director was Brian Bradway, the secretary was Kirk Pierson and Joyce Hunter was the treasurer.
“There is enormous growth in residences (in Davenport) — and I love all those rooftops — but I saw something was missing,” Pierson said in 2020. “There is disposable income in the seven figures being spent outside of our (city) borders.”