Walthourville Police Chief Bernie Quarterman said he was suspended from his duties again Thursday by Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray.
Quarterman served a three-day suspension without pay in November for violating overtime policy. The chief said overtime was necessary to ensure the safety of city residents.
The chief said the mayor is now accusing him of letting uncertified officers write tickets and again violating overtime policy.
Quarterman said the accusations are nonsense, that every officer is certified and that he has not violated the overtime policy.
The chief said city hall is out of control, and that his department is being harassed by the mayor and City Clerk/Human Resources Director Melissa Jones.
“I have been a target,” Quarterman said in a letter to the Courier.
He said his first suspension was, “Because I asked and looked into correcting deficiencies (in accounting) and that they be investigated. I have been threatened with termination for addressing issues such as officer’s pay, the intentional targeting for harassment of officers, and the city’s finances.”
Jones deferred all questions about regarding Quarterman, the department and legal matters to City Attorney Jeff Arnold.
“Mayor Daisy Pray believes her primary duty is the safety and welfare of the citizens of Walthourville,” Arnold said. “She has a primary responsibility to protect that while at the same time exercising good judgment and financial responsibility. And as she has always done, if there is a notice of proposed adverse action against an individual employee of the city, Mayor Pray is not going to comment on it but will let it work its course out through due process.”
In November, the city issued a statement, saying that in addition to violating overtime policy, Quarterman was reprimanded for “lack of control related to the continued training and certification of a police officer and the negligent handling of a matter of legal process.”
Quarterman said the additional accusations against him are retaliation. The chief sent a letter to Councilwoman Luciria Lovette saying Jones should be reprimanded and charged for false swearing per the city’s charter.
“All of the Walthourville Police officers are properly certified, current and continued training, as can be verified through Police Officer Standard Training (POST) and each officer’s official records,” Quarterman wrote to Lovette. “This false statement made by Mrs. Melissa Jones is an intentional attack on my character and retaliation for my request to have an impartial investigation into her conduct and lack of integrity.”
Latarchia Lee said she thinks she is the officer Jones referred to in the issued statement. Lee said the chief and the department have been harassed because of a federal suit she has against the city for back-pay and unpaid overtime.
“The city is attempting to make this look as if the chief has allowed me to work overtime hours excessively without justification which is not the truth,” Lee wrote Dec. 7 to the city.
She wrote that Quarterman properly requested overtime, but was ignored.
According to court documents from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division, there is a settlement pending, telling the city to pay $7,142 in legal fees and $12,154 in overtime and back pay to Lee.
The chief said as a result of the suit, the city has compensated other officers for past mistakes.
Lee said since the suit, someone from the city looked into her POST personnel file and is now trying to force her to take training that she, the chief and Sgt. Stephen Wright agree is not necessary.
Quarterman alleges the mismanagement of city finances extends beyond his department. He said he requested copies of financial reports in an open records request. He said he received a copy of the audit for the year ending Dec. 31, 2015.
Quarterman provided a copy of part of the report that showed deficiencies were noted in accounting, reporting and payroll procedures.
During the Dec. 12 city council meeting, it became apparent that financial reporting and discrepancies continue as Richard Deal of the CPA firm of Lanier, Deal and Proctor presented the fiscal 2016 audit.
Deal pointed out a few of the dozen deficiencies found that are nearly identical to those in the 2015 report.
Discrepancies included bank reconciliations not being done regularly; transactions being posted incorrectly, payroll being processed incorrectly, a lack of documentation of expenditures and inadequate year-end closing procedures.
Deal’s firm recommended the city hire a finance director knowledgeable in government accounting. According to the audit, city officials agree with the findings and are working to remedy the situations.
Jones said they would like to have a finance director in place by February.