City considers pursuing charges related to credit card transactions


The city of Blaine is looking into pursuing criminal charges against a former public works director who has been accused of using a city credit card for personal purchases. The decision comes after the state auditor’s office recently completed a fraud investigation that confirmed the city’s findings last year and found more misappropriations, which totaled $8,600 altogether. 

Last July, Bernie Ziemianek was asked to resign from his position as the city’s public works director after a city investigation found he allegedly misused a work credit card for at least $4,000, according to records previously obtained by The Northern Light. The finance department began the investigation in late June after a public works employee questioned Ziemianek’s purchase of a $1,200 electric concrete grinder. The city investigation found Ziemianek had eight credit card transactions totaling $7,600 that were “inappropriate and odd” from October 2021 to July 1, 2022, including the electric concrete grinder, a saw, and building code and plumbing handbooks, city records show. City staff could not prove all of those purchases were misused, and Ziemianek paid back $4,150 immediately after his resignation.

The city then submitted its investigation to the Washington state auditor’s office for review. The state auditor’s office published its fraud investigation on April 24, along with the city’s regular audit. It found $4,500 in questionable transactions from June 2021 to November 2021 that it was unable to determine were for business and $4,100 in misappropriations from March 2022 to June 2022. The purchases totaled $8,600.

The auditor’s office recommended in its report that the city retrieve the $9,200, which includes investigation costs, either from the former public works director or insurance.

The audit found weaknesses in the city’s internal review processes on expenditures, and processes have been put in place to ensure misuse of public funds doesn’t happen in the future, city manager Michael Harmon said. City staff will conduct detailed reviews of itemized credit card receipts and not rush through approvals.

“This is an isolated incident and it’s not indicative of city of Blaine employees,” Harmon said. “We have good, honest people working for the city and when we do find out of these types of allegations, we take them very seriously. We want to be good stewards of tax dollars and we’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior.”

Harmon said he asked Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley to look at what would be the next steps to pursue criminal charges. The Blaine Police Department was directed to consult with the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office on questions such as whether an outside police department should investigate the case or if the prosecutor’s office would file charges solely based on the audit.

Ziemianek said in an email to The Northern Light that he had no comment.

In response to the allegations, Ziemianek previously said that he began purchasing items to make his home more accessible while his wife was sick. He said he either accidentally selected the city card or PayPal had the city card assigned as his last preferred purchase.

Ziemianek, who had been employed as director since December 2020, previously said his decision to resign was because his wife needed aortic bypass surgery.

Whatcom County prosecutor Eric Richey said in an email that the case hasn’t been referred to the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office.  


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