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Judge: Mayor, council ignored purchasing rules
But 'no criminal wrongdoing' found

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In a nearly 200-page, investigative report, former Clayton County Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Boswell says there is "no finding of any criminal action" by city leaders in Jonesboro.

However, he said the city needs clearer procedures that must be followed by all city officials, to the letter.

The judge presented the findings of his multi-week investigation into the spending practices of the Jonesboro city government, during a special called meeting of the city council Friday evening.

"My concern was not what was purchased," Boswell said during the meeting. "My thrust was to see how things were done."

The city council called for the investigation after several expenditures were made by the city, allegedly, without proper approvals. The questioned expenditures included:

· The purchase of a Ford Expedition for city use by the mayor.

·$500 given to a private citizen to cover the cost of a power saw damaged during the renovation of the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum.

· The hiring of a staff person for the museum, and over-budgeted spending in regards to the completion of the museum.

In August, Boswell was hired at a rate of $300 per hour to investigate any financial wrongdoings by Mayor Joy Day, or any council members, as well as to evaluate the city's charter and current ordinances.

Boswell said that while, "no one indicated any opposition to [the car] purchase," Day "acquired the Ford Expedition without following the procedures set out in the Charter and Ordinances of the City."

In regards to money spent on the Firehouse Museum, Boswell's report said that, at the April 9 meeting of the council, Councilman Bobby Wiggins "indicated he needed approximately $15,000 ... to finish the construction and renovation," of the project. The budget for the project was $9,000.

Boswell said the mayor and council agreed, in general discussion, that the project should be completed, and directed Wiggins to finish it. However, "there was no formal vote to approve [these] additional monies," and "there was no motion to amend the budget to allow for this expenditure," the judge added.

Boswell concluded that, "the Mayor has expended city money from the contingency fund, also without the council voting on these expenditures. However, the Council has also, not followed the Charter and Ordinances with regard to the payment of a saw, the completion of the Firehouse Museum, or Firehouse personnel."

The investigator said "there seems to be an informal attitude toward the government of the city of Jonesboro by many officials," and stressed the need for a purchasing ordinance, which would clearly lay out how money was to be spent.

"You need to be careful that everything you do is in public session," Boswell said to the council and the mayor. "I would really encourage the city to take a proactive role. Public officers are the trustees and servants of the people, and at all times are amenable. [The public] expects you to conduct your business in a way that benefits the whole."

Council members said the investigation would move the city toward better financial management. Mayor Day said a purchasing ordinance would bring clarification to city expenditures.

"One of the core things [Boswell] said to us is that we can't have the council voting on every little thing that happens in the city," said Day. "We all have to follow the same rules and it has to be a flexible, but organized plan. It's something that we'll have to thrash out, by looking at some sample ordinances and speaking amongst ourselves ... to find out what fits for Jonesboro."

Councilman Roger Grider said the investigation was informative for the council members, many with less than two years of governing experience. "If there is going to be money being spent, our finance officer needs to be there," said Grider.

"I thought [Boswell's report] was somewhat fair," said Councilman Rick Yonce. "We need to follow procedure a little better. We'll have to study the report a little more and see what we can come up with to make the procedures part of the budget."