Opinion: Mayor owes Eatonville explanation on debt

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Dear Editor,

Starting in 2019, prior to Mr. David Baublits running for mayor, he moved to open a business in town under the name of Aileen’s. This was described in the permit to the town as a convenience store. However, the business model changed completely after that point, and he opened the business under a new name, Yogi’s. Additionally, the business changed from a convenience store to a drive-through barbecue establishment, which was opened in January 2022 under the name Yogi’s, mere days after he became mayor.

During construction, Mr. Baublits was directed repeatedly to obtain new permits outlining the actual establishment and to make modifications in design, sign, clearances, etc. for this new business. He was provided guidance and direction from the town, through Larsen and Associates, for engineering work and compliance reviews.

That work was not free. Indeed, Mr. Baublits’ work with Larsen and Associates incurred thousands of dollars in fees, which were charged to the Town of Eatonville and paid from the General Fund but owed by Mr. Baublits. The town then billed Mr. Baublits, but he failed to pay full recompense for the services. Mr. Baublits was issued a permit, though he had not paid his outstanding balance, and Yogi’s opened on Jan. 8, 2022, again, just days after he became mayor of Eatonville.

Within weeks of Mr. Baublits becoming mayor, he was approached by the town clerk, notified of the outstanding charges and asked to clear his debt. The town clerk also discussed the matter with her new supervisor in the same timeframe, Town Administrator Seth Boettcher, Mr. Boettcher took no official action to recover the fees until April 2022, when he discussed the matter with the town attorney.

Although the debt had been outstanding for months, this matter was first raised at the Town Council meeting on April 25, 2022, when questions were raised about attorney fees incurred by the town attorney for a consultation regarding Yogi’s. When asked, Mr. Boettcher indicated he had consulted with the attorney as the business owner, David Baublits, was contesting some of the fees owed.

In June of 2022, Mr. Baublits wrote four separate letters to Town Administrator Boettcher, his employee, contesting the decisions of the past administration charging him for Larsen and Associates’ services in connection with Yogi’s. It should be noted that the fees had been outstanding for more than a year at this point, and, yet, based on my investigation, this was the first time that Mr. Baublits had formally even responded to the demands for payment.

This matter was raised at subsequent Town Council meetings, including in August, October, December, and again in January 2023. In each instance, the town administrator indicated he was working on the issue but had not yet resolved it. When asked to explain, Mr. Boettcher indicated that the town attorney was not being responsive, though town records reflect that there have been no further invoices generated by the town attorney, a bill would indicate further consultation on the matter had been done.

I told Mr. Boettcher of my intention to raise the matter again at the Feb. 13, 2023, Town Council meeting, though I chose not to do so. The mayor did, however, provide me with a packet of discreet information concerning this issue that he believed supported his refusal to reimburse the town. I told him that as mayor, it seemed wholly inappropriate for him to refuse to pay his delinquent debt owed to the town.

To finally obtain a better understanding of the matter, and since I did not believe the town administrator was being transparent or forthright, I filed a public records request with the town clerk on Feb. 15. It is unfortunate that, as an elected official within the Town of Eatonville, I felt compelled to use a Public Records Act request to ensure timely access to full and complete information.

Based on the information available to me, it is my belief that the mayor has used his position to avoid paying money he owes to the Town of Eatonville. Additionally, the town administrator has, at best, allowed this delinquency to continue. At worst, Mr. Boettcher has failed in his duty to secure repayment from Mayor Baublits the thousands of dollars Mayor Baublits owes to the Town of Eatonville.

We deserve, from our elected officials and town employees, a high degree of ethics and morality. The mayor should have paid his debt to the town long before the honor of becoming mayor. My hope is that this letter will now finally compel him to do right by his town. Finally, I invite the mayor to respond to this issue — to answer why he has chosen not to pay his bills and to burden the town with these debts.

Peter Paul is an Eatonville Town Council member


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