Flint, MI—Officials shared more details this week regarding “improper” charges on former Flint Downtown Development Authority (DDA) executive director Kiaira May’s credit card.
May’s spending was originally brought to public attention on May 22, 2023, when Flint City Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer shared a letter he penned to Mayor Sheldon Neeley, who serves as the chairman of the Flint DDA Board, on his social media page.
“I am writing to bring to your attention a matter of significant importance regarding the expenses incurred within the office of the Executive Director,” the letter began.
In his post, Pfeiffer said that he’d seen evidence of “a shocking array of extravagant spending” from May, including “numerous nights in luxurious hotels,” “lavish weekend dinners,” and expensed nail salon visits and souvenirs, among other purchases.
Flint Beat has since reviewed the credit card statements to which Pfeiffer referred and confirmed there are multiple charges to hotels, restaurants, and a local nail salon dating back to at least June 2022.
Flint Beat has also requested access to further financial statements for May, who started her DDA role in the summer of 2021, and her predecessor, Gerard Burnash, who held the office for roughly a decade before May.
Though Pfeiffer’s letter to Neeley did not detail the claims he laid out on social media, it did ask that the mayor and DDA Board members keep all records from May’s tenure as director, review them and create a report of findings and recommendations.
“This report will serve as a vital resource for the Board to make informed decisions regarding the expenses in the office of Executive Director and provide guidance and spending policies for any future Executive Director,” the letter read.
May resigned from her DDA position in early May 2023 and has since begun a new job in Detroit. She told Flint Beat she did not wish to comment at this time.
For the DDA Board’s part, the body’s attorney, Damion Frasier, addressed some of Pfeiffer’s concerns around May’s spending at a meeting on May 30, 2023.
“I know a lot of you have heard a councilman posted a message about issues with the DDA’s credit card,” Frasier said over speakerphone. “And there are some accuracies in the things that were posted. Some things are inaccurate.”
He told the Board he was working on a response letter, but that regardless of the validity of Pfeiffer’s claims “there’s not a question that there was—under Michigan law, and our credit card policy—improper use of our credit card.”
In a follow up interview with Flint Beat, Frasier clarified what he felt were the accuracies and inaccuracies to Pfeiffer’s comments.
He noted that some expenses the councilman referenced had been deemed “personal” during regular credit card statement reviews, and the former director had reimbursed those costs whenever they were flagged by the DDA’s part-time, contracted accountant.
Still, Frasier estimated there remain roughly $13,000 in “arguable” charges to the DDA’s card during May’s tenure, citing a confluence of things that may have led to that sum.
“We implemented a credit card policy in 2009,” he said. “And I will guarantee you that Kiaira had no clue about it because, as we found out later on, there were multiple credit cards that violated the policy.”
Those violations stemmed from before May took office, Frasier had told the Board on May 30.
The DDA’s credit card policy notes the executive director is responsible for the card, which can “only be used for the purchase of goods or services for the official business within the downtown district.”
It also requires a system of “internal accounting controls” to be established to monitor credit card use, that credit card invoices “be approved before payment is made” and that the executive director may be subject to dismissal or “appropriate civil and/or criminal action” for violating policy.
Frasier said May likely didn’t know of the policy because she came to office during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Board wasn’t meeting as regularly and, when they did, rarely face-to-face.
So, he said, she joined the DDA at a time that was “ripe for misunderstandings.”
Frasier also noted that May came to the DDA by way of a formerly corporate career, where buying dinner for clients, potential developers and investors could be deemed an appropriate expense. But in the Flint DDA’s case, he said, as a quasi-government entity, such expenses require pre-approval through a Board vote.
“In fairness to her, these are the kinds of things that you do in business that are not done in government,” he said.
Frasier said he did not believe the Board would pursue legal action against May. Instead, he said, they plan to ask the former director to sit down to review the remaining expenses of concern and help detail what official business purpose they served.
For his part, Pfeiffer told Flint Beat his purpose in taking the DDA credit card concern public was not to call out May so much as to push for better financial accountability within the DDA office overall.
“I think that there should have been more oversight and there should be more oversight,” he said. “I’m not sure if anything is to the ‘criminality’ point of it. It’s just very careless.”
At the DDA Board meeting on May 30, members voted unanimously to re-adopt the organization’s 2009 credit card policy. They also voted to authorize Brandy Curtis, who is managing DDA operations in the absence of an executive director, as a DDA credit card user and to access to the organization’s online banking account.