“We have check and balances in place to ensure that these funds are being administered the way that they should. And I am not naïve to the fact of what is going on. This has been going on and on and I have spent 30 years in this City and my character and my career is being challenged and at risk,” City Manager Kenneth Howard said to Mayor and Council at the Dec. 2 meeting.
Howard was seeking advice from Mayor and Council on how they should handle Councilwoman Diana Reid’s request to review the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds awarded to the City for the use of emergency rent, mortgage and utilities.
Assistant City Manager Ryan Arnold had reported $100,000 was allocated for those specific uses at the Oct. 21 meeting noting the fund had a balance of $77,196.66 as of Oct. 1. At the Nov. 4 meeting Howard said that balance did not reflect the ongoing applications and as of Nov. 1, there was only a balance of $18,123.22. At the Nov. 18 meeting Ryan said the remaining balance was now $100. At that same meeting the Council voted to move $20K from the small business grant fund to the Community Development Department for the use of emergency rent, mortgage and utilities and keep track of the funds spent.
For the past three months Reid had been requesting a report to see where and how those funds were spent. At the Nov. 18 meeting, City Attorney Linnie Darden said Councilmembers are allowed to view the information, provided they don’t share any information with others.
At last week’s meeting, Howard requested Council to come to him to facilitate their requests. Reid suggested the request go to Arnold since he is the person currently overseeing the department. But Howard said all requests should come directly to him.
“Once again I ask that if you have any requests for information from the Community Development Department, please get your request to me and I will direct my staff accordingly,” Howard said.
“I already made my request known,” Reid said. “One Hundred thousand at the top, zero at the bottom and whatever is in between, simple.”
“Okay, that’s easy,” Howard replied.
“You would think,” Reid said.
Councilman Keith Jenkins asked the City Manager if he would consider placing Arnold in charge of the requests.
Howard was quiet for a brief second then said, “You know, Mayor and Council, I feel that personally this is something that is being geared toward me. I feel that… what has transpired here now is an attack on me. I have been told, Mayor and Council, that Ms. Reid has said that I have embezzled money from the City…And that is a very outlandish claim. And I am bringing it to the public at this point and asking Ms. Reid is this true?”
“Don’t come to me with he say, she say,” Reid fired back. “If you have a name, I will address it. And if what I ‘supposedly’ said is not true, you should be more than happy to prove that untrue.”
Reid said she had no problem in receiving other reports she had requested showing how funds were disbursed to non-profits and small businesses.
But, “When I asked for the $100,000 for the, rent mortgage and utilities, you gave me federal guidelines and you kept throwing red flags so I couldn’t see it,” she said.
Reid denied making allegations against Howard and reiterated that she had a duty to her constituents who have asked her what happened to the money, where it was spent, and how come they couldn’t get any help from the Community Development Department.
“I have worked for the City of Hinesville for 30 years and there has been one incident after another with me and my staff…and let me just say this, we have checks and balances in place,” Howard said. “If there is a reason why these books and information needs to be reviewed, let me know. We will get you the information. But it is more than that. It is obviously more than that. If someone can embezzle money from the City of Hinesville, it is going to take a conspiracy. It is going to take a conspiratorial effort of several staff person. Because first of all, these funds come electronically to the City of Hinesville and the Community Development Department has to request a check, they can’t write the check. That check has to be generated from our finance department and the finance department cannot sign the check.”
Howard said his character and career were being challenged and at risk.
“I have never taken anything from the City of Hinesville,” Howard said, while also commending his staff and saying the City has the best Chief Financial Officer in the entire state.
Howard said he would conduct a full audit of those funds.