Riverdale meeting on hiring freeze, investigation

By Ed Brock

?The Riverdale City Council is expected to address an employment freeze one councilman requested out of concern for an issue of public safety.

The council may also hear the results of an investigation by the city attorney into the city's finances and the possible misuse of a city credit card.

Councilman Rick Scoggins asked for the hiring freeze at the Nov. 22 meeting, at the time saying he wanted to investigate a matter of safety and the possibility that the cost of something had been misrepresented to the city.

Scoggins said that he had been approached with concerns about the city's police department. These concerns had led him to take a closer look at newly appointed Police Chief Thetus Knox's plans to restructure the department.

"Because it is a safety issue it has my undivided attention," Scoggins said.

One concern was the way in which three part-time jobs were advertised, Scoggins said.

Part of Knox's restructuring plan includes the creation of an assistant police chief position that would pay $81,943 a year and three part-time jobs: administrative assistant, crime analyst and training officer. The administrative assistant job would pay $15,259.50 dollars a year and the other two positions would pay $25,000 each.

In a memo to Angela Edwards, the city's human resources employee, Knox asked that the part-time jobs be advertised with salaries as they would be if the positions were full time, with $30,519 for the administrative assistant position and $50,000 a year for the crime analyst and training officer jobs. The memo was dated Oct. 13. On Nov. 30, Knox sent another memo to Edwards asking that the positions be advertised with the part-time salary amounts.

Knox was on vacation Friday, but City Manager Iris Jessie said Knox wrote the memo requesting the posting of the positions in that way because she had been told that it was the way they had to be posted according to city practice or policy. Jessie said that was apparently a misunderstanding.

The hiring freeze may have done some good, Scoggins said.

"And, because of the change in salary, it appears to be a savings to tax payers over $65,000 with reposting of the job positions," Scoggins said.

Scoggins said he also wants to look into some officers' concerns that more patrol officer positions should be filled instead of administrative positions.

One Riverdale police officer, who asked that his name not be used, said there are often only three officers on the street at one time when ideally there should be six or seven, not including supervisors.

"If two people are tied up and I'm in a shooting, who's there to back me up," the officer said.

Jessie said Riverdale already has more police officers than several other cities, based on some preliminary information Knox is gathering for her restructuring program.

"I can't envision the need to hire more police officers," Jessie said.

Jessie also said Knox decided that the crime analyst position was specifically necessary, because the city was not analyzing its crime statistics to compare the level of crime in Riverdale to other cities. The department also was not identifying peak times for criminal activity during which more officers could be put on duty, but instead had each officer working regular 12-hour shifts, Jessie said.

While the agenda for tonight's meeting does not mention the hiring freeze, Jessie said she believes it will be voted on and that the council will lift it. Also not on the agenda is the possibility that Riverdale City Attorney Veronica Jones will present the results of her investigation into the city's finances.

Councilwoman Wanda Wallace requested the investigation following the city's Fall Fest on Oct. 31. Though she said she endorsed the idea of the Fall Fest, she wanted to make sure it was done according to the city's policies and the law, Wallace told concerned citizens at the Nov. 22 meeting.

Wallace listed her concerns in a Nov. 15 memorandum to Jones regarding the investigation into possible "ethical and legal infractions" related to the Fall Fest.

"These infractions included the possibility of favoritism, improper authorization concerning the use of city funds, improper authorization concerning the use of city resources, lack of committee guidelines and development, lack of committee minutes, lack of disclosure concerning monies spent and the improper use of a government credit card," Wallace wrote.

Councilwoman Michelle Bruce's mother, Barbara Williams, began her own investigation involving requests for information from the city after she overheard Fall Fest volunteers complaining loudly to Wallace and other council members during a veteran's ceremony that a city councilman had taken other volunteers shopping for gifts but not them.

Among Williams' concerns are the use of $1,500 from the city's recycling fund, which she said was authorized by City Manager Iris Jessie without a vote by the council, and the use of a city-issued credit card by City Councilman Kenny Ruffin.

Previously Ruffin acknowledged that all of the charges in question on the card stemmed from the Fall Fest, the idea for which he presented to the council. After the investigation began Ruffin declined further comment.

In a response to written questions from Williams, Jessie wrote that the city provided a $1,500 line item allocation from the recycling fund and that she had authorized that the money be used. Williams said the city's charter only authorizes Jessie to spend funds up to $1,000 without a vote by the council.

Jessie said that the $1,000 limit is in conflict with the city's purchasing procedures and also that it only applies to a single purchase of $1,000. None of the single purchases connected with the festival were for more than $1,000, Jessie said.

Jessie said she had not heard from Jones as of Friday afternoon but she hoped that Jones would report on her investigation tonight.