Riverdale investigating use of funds

By Ed Brock

Tempers and voices were raised at Monday's Riverdale City Council meeting during a discussion on an investigation into the use of city funds.

Two council members, Wanda Wallace and Michelle Bruce, called for an investigation into the use of city funds in connection with the city's Fall Fest that was held on Oct. 31.

Wallace, who has asked Riverdale City Attorney Veronica Jones to investigate the matter, told the audience that the investigation is under way and the results would be released to the public once the investigation is over.

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.

Also, 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 (not at the Fall Fest as previously reported) that a city councilman had taken other volunteers shopping for gifts but not them.

At the meeting Monday two Fall Fest volunteers addressed the council regarding a News Daily article about the investigation. Cynthia Stamps Jones said she was offended by the implication that gifts were bought for volunteers.

"I worked very hard on the festival," Jones said. "There were never any gifts given to me."

Volunteer Vanessa Johnson Muhammad also said she knew nothing about any gifts and both women said they had been proud of the city for having the Fall Fest.

Wallace said her investigation is not about the Fall Fest, but about making sure it is done according to policy and the law.

"I think the Fall Fest is a great idea," Wallace said.

Williams told the crowd that she was sorry if anybody was offended by the information she had acquired but that the "facts had to come out."

"I debated for three days on what to do," Williams said. "I even asked the Lord what to do."

She added that people needed to "keep an open mind" about what was going on in the city.

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 Council member Kenny Ruffin.

The charges on the credit card were made to vendors such as Target in Morrow, Play It Again Sports, Michaels and Wal-Mart in Fayetteville and Riverdale and others. Previously Ruffin acknowledged that all of the charges in question stemmed from the Fall Fest, the idea for which he presented to the council. On Monday he said he could not make any further comments due to the ongoing investigation.

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.

According to minutes of the council's meetings, Ruffin was initially scheduled to talk about the Fall Fest at the Aug. 23 meeting but he withdrew his comments at that time. At a Sept. 13 meeting in which Wallace served as mayor pro tem, Ruffin made his proposal that the event be held on Oct. 31 at Sparkles Skating Rink on Ga. Highway 85.

At that time he requested that the city use $1,500 from its approved $15,000 recreation budget.

Wallace questioned Ruffin on his desire to hold the event at Sparkles, saying she wanted to see it held at a more neutral location because holding it at the skating rink showed favoritism. Wallace also called for the creation of an "activity committee" comprised of citizens, and she repeated these concerns and others at several other meetings leading up to the event.

There is no record in the minutes provided by Williams of a vote by the council to hold the event.

Also, the council voted to freeze the hiring of new employees until the next meeting on Dec. 13 in connection to information one council member has that a city employee or department head has lied to the city on an issue of safety and money.

Councilman Rick Scoggins told the council that information had been brought to him regarding an issue of safety in which the cost of something had been misrepresented. He declined to comment further on the specifics of the information on Monday night. The council voted unanimously to support the freeze.