Actions taken during the January 14, 2019, Robert Lee City Council meeting by council and the City Secretary's Report explaining the city's auditor had found illegal card abuse led our staff to investigate further.
Following a lengthy executive session at their regular city council meeting on January 14, 2019, Council resumed regular session and took the following actions.
* A new bank account would be opened with $5,000 from the general fund.
* No checks would be written out of this account.
* The specific purpose of this account was for three debit cards.
* One of these cards would be in the possession of City Superintendent Billy Williams.
* The other two cards would remain at City Hall and would have to be signed out for use.
* The cards must be returned immediately upon completion of use and, at that time, receipts had to be turned in along with the reason for the purchase or purchases.
* All cards connected to all other city bank accounts would be cancelled once this new account was functioning.
No reason was given for this motion which passed unanimously. However later in the City Secretary’s report to council, it was mentioned that the auditor had discovered ILLEGAL USE of the city’s cards. The Observer/Enterprise filed a public information request with City Hall and also the Mayor Pro Tem to which there had been no response as of the start of the Tuesday, January 29, 2019, special meeting.
The Observer/Enterprise also submitted a Public Information Request to the Coke County Sheriff’s Office Custodian of Records Misti Hayes later on Monday, January 28, 2019. In this request, we asked for any and all “reports written on an investigation into the illegal credit/debit card use mentioned in the City Secretary's Report at the January 14, 2019, Robert Lee City Council meeting.” That same day, Hayes processed the Public Information Request and provided the following statement. “As of January 28, 2019, at 16:36, Coke County Sheriff's Office has not received any complaints or requests for investigation into the illegal credit/debit card use mentioned in the City Secretary's report that was presented in the Robert Lee City Council Meeting on January 14, 2019.”
At the meeting on January 29, council went into another lengthy executive session immediately following the prayer and pledge. When they returned, the Mayor Pro Tem Roger Alexander gave a statement regarding concerns found by the auditor. He then made a motion that the mayor will be restricted from City Hall except for the lobby area and would take care of any city business at a location away from City Hall. It was seconded by Ricky Green and passed with only one opposing vote.
Alexander followed with a second motion to hire a forensic accountant to review specific details of financial transactions of the city and report back to city council with their findings. Following a second by Brandi Brosh, the motion passed unanimously.
Following the adjournment, The Observer/Enterprise was provided with documents requested in the Public Information Request. One of the documents was the debit card guidelines proposal submitted by Mayor Pro Tem Roger Alexander. In addition to what was included in the motion passed during the January 14 meeting, there were also reasons given for the new guidelines. These included the following statement.
“The Auditors for the City of Robert Lee have discovered over use and possible fraudulent use of City Debit Cards. As of January 7, 2019, the City Secretary has not received invoices for over $10,000 worth of purchases made on an individual’s Amazon Personal Account. These purchases are from May 2018 through November 2018. The City has not been reimbursed for purchases this individual charged to the City of Robert Lee debit card. This individual has admitted, prior to Christmas, that several charges to the City Bank Account were that individual’s personal charges.”
The other document was a statement from the mayor to the council attempting to explain how the charges occurred. She mentioned several orders she had made, her electric bill and gifts purchased for city employees. She states that she has reimbursed the city in the amounts of $108.32, $248.98, and $200.00.
Upon contacting someone with a background in banking who is also extremely familiar with Amazon’s Alexa, we were told Alexa could pay bills for the customer. However, Alexa would not just “pick” a card from the user’s Amazon account. That card would have to first be linked by the customer to the company being paid at that company’s website.
Further information will be available in future.