Sunday, September 15, 2002

The Crisis...Recedes

In September 8th's Commercial Appeal, this story, about the "crisis" (the CA's word) in County Commission and County Mayor's Office personal use of credit cards, it seems that the "crisis" has receded into a "scandal."

Now, to quote from the story, it's "new oddities," "a checkered history" and "a smattering of concern." To quote the CA:
word spread among
county government insiders that the state comptroller's office
was preparing to audit the commission's travel records.

That audit, anxiously awaited by county officials already mired in
a growing credit card abuse scandal, is not yet under way."
But already the cockroaches are scurrying for cover.

It's odd, too, that the largest abuses found on the County Commission, so far, are only around $1100 dollars -- for Michael Hooks and Bridget Chisolm. Both involve travel reimbursements and both have been repayed.

The fun stuff, as always, is down deep in the article:
When Hooks cashed the travel advance and repaid the county
with campaign funds, he essentially put $1,075 into his pocket,
Rawlins said. The move could be a violation of state campaign
finance law, punishable by a civil penalty up to $10,000, he said.

Those laws are rarely enforced.

Rawlins agreed that if Hooks were to reimburse his campaign
fund, officials likely would look the other way at any possible
No! Really? Why does that not surprise me?

County finance director John Trusty said the policy clearly applies
to everyone working under the county mayor. Although he said
the commission "generally follows the same guidelines," Trusty
said it's unclear whether commissioners must strictly abide by the

At times commissioners have asserted autonomy and waived
travel policy provisions, such as maximum hotel rates, depending
on particular needs of trips, Trusty said.

State auditors haven't indicated whether their concerns with
commissioners' travel spending may be big or small. Former
chairman Morris Fair said he understood one concern involved the
commission's practice at times of financing trips with a mixture of
travel advances and credit card charges.
It's all about how these folks see themselves -- not as public servants but as rulers and kings entitled to special treatment. Especially in the County government, where CEO level salaries are the norm and expensed lunches par for the course. It'll take more than the CA just carping about it to make real change happen; it'll take you and me making a fuss.

One last bit, from the very end:
New county Mayor A C Wharton temporarily confiscated all
administration credit cards last week following the alleged abuse
by one senior policy adviser. In his last week in office, former
Mayor Jim Rout suspended longtime aide Tom Jones as Jones was
busily submitting checks to pay back at least $45,000 for
personal expenses dating back to 1999.

Wharton's act didn't affect the two credit cards used by the
Remember AC Wharton? He's the new "wonder Mayor" who was all over the CA's pages right after the election. He's gone AWOL since. Even here, he's down in the end of the story, in the final paragraphs. Note, too, that Jones is still only suspended. Not gone yet. And the story quotes from Finance Director John Trusty, who has had a blot put on his career with some bogused-up sex harrassment charges. The story conspicuously fails to mention the outgoing County Mayor, Jim Rout, who has come under question in other stories.

Ahh, well....

Until next time.

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