0

Riverdale councilman accused of credit-card misuse

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Riverdale City Councilman Kenny Ruffin has filed formal ethics charges against fellow councilman, Wayne Hall, claiming -- among other accusations -- that Hall misused his city-issued credit card.

Ruffin said that between Feb. 24, 2009 and Jan. 12, 2010, Hall purchased at least $920.85 worth of books used to further private graduate studies at Troy University.

According to Riverdale City Attorney Deana Johnson, the city council must conduct an internal investigation, or hire an outside council to do so. The council must decide -- within 30 days -- whether to dismiss the complaint or conduct an ethics hearings.

The complaint, according to Ruffin, was filed with Riverdale City Clerk Stephanie Thomas on Feb. 22, immediately following the city's regularly scheduled business meeting. A key accusation in Ruffin's complaint alleges that Hall used a city credit card to purchase several textbooks unassociated with city, or Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) training.

"He has been doing this for a while, and he just has no respect for the procedures and policies of the city," Ruffin said. "Buying books for unauthorized purchases doesn't fall within the guidelines of city business. While it is commendable to increase your education, you can't do it on the backs of citizens. They voted for him to improve the city, not just to improve himself. There is no evidence that this is being used to benefit citizens."

After filing an open records request, the Clayton News Daily received a copy of Hall's credit-card purchases dating from April 2008 to November 2009. Credit card statements show that between those dates, Hall made at least 12 book purchases from MBS Direct Textbooks, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble, with titles such as "Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of Investigation," "Public Budgeting Systems," "Evaluation: A Systematic Approach," and "Basic Methods of Policy Analysis and Planning."

While not included in Ruffin's complaint, Hall's credit card statements dating back to April 2008 also show: More than $200 in copies, report covers, and binding from FedEx Kinko's of Fayetteville; a Sep. 6, 2008 purchase and activation of an AT&T cell phone valued at $264.99; at least 12 purchases of printer ink cartridges totaling more than $400, from Office Depot stores in Fayetteville, Dunwoody, and Jonesboro; and an eight-gigabyte SanDisk Cruzer USB flash drive valued at $39.99 purchased from Office Depot of Fayetteville on March 23, 2009.

Ruffin said a 12-month statue of limitations in the city's code of ethics allows him to only bring forth accusation's dating back to Feb. 22, 2009.

"We don't know what all those copies and binders are for," Ruffin said. "We bought a perfectly brand new printer at city hall three years ago that includes all of the state-of-the-art options, and he is going out spending money on that. It's a waste of taxpayer money."

Ruffin's complaint also accuses Hall of being disrespectful to other council members, making "accusatory and false" statements during council meetings, and "impeding government efficiency" by a number of unexplained vote abstentions -- 28 counted from March 9, 2009 to Dec. 14, 2010.

On Wednesday, Hall said that he attended the Feb. 22 Riverdale City Council meeting, but that he had yet to be informed by the city about the ethics complaint. "I didn't even know about the complaint until WSB [TV] came by my house today," Hall said. "I welcome any investigation that they want to start, but I would first like to see what I have to respond to, and I don't have any knowledge of it."

Hall would not confirm Wednesday that he was taking classes at Troy University, but said he is currently "pursing a master's in public administration with a concentration in public management." He said the books he's purchased within the last year relate to his studies, but argued that the knowledge from the courses ultimately benefit the citizens of Riverdale.

"I have books on public policy, budgeting, economics, and public financing," Hall said. "That is allowable under my privileges as an elected official. The classes I have taken I have paid out of my own pocket. The decision and knowledge that I have gained from these classes helps me better represent the citizens.

"These times are hard times," he continued. "We have a responsibility and a duty to manage with efficiency. I have not, in my opinion, misapplied my role as an elected official."

Hall accused Ruffin of mismanagement of city funds, citing at 2005 incident in which the city received a $40,000 park-improvement grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and used $14,187 of the grant to start a city youth basketball league. The basketball league was mostly an effort by Ruffin, and grant money was used to purchase uniforms, T-shirts, referee fees, and catering costs, he said.

According to an April 13, 2007 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the DCA later made the city repay the $14,187, as it was deemed an improper use of the grant funds.

"Where are his ethics charges," Hall said. "If you are talking about textbooks, something that helps me make decisions, and he messed up $15,000 worth of money, something is wrong with that."

Ruffin said the basketball league was started as a way to help stem gang violence, following the 2004 shooting death of 4-year-old Trevon Wilson.

"It's a moot point now, because that money was paid back," Ruffin said. "When these kids were out here killing each other, who actually tried to do something to help stop this violence? It wasn't like I bought basketballs and uniforms for myself. That is the difference [between Hall's book purchases]."

City Attorney Johnson said that on Monday, she will discuss with the city council how it wishes to proceed in investigating the ethics charges.

"They are required to decide whether they want to investigate it themselves, or hire a disinterested ethics officer," she said. "Within 30 days of the filing of the complaint, after this investigation has been done, the governing body [the city council] would decide whether they want to dismiss or go forward with the hearing. If they are going to have a hearing, that hearing has to take place within 60 days of the vote to have the hearing. It is envisioned that the whole process wouldn't take more than 90 days."