Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray said she required all the city’s department heads to get approval before allowing overtime months before she fired former Police Chief Bernie Quarterman.
Quarterman has said he was fired because he questioned city finances and accounting deficiencies noted in an annual audit for the 2015 fiscal year.
However, Walthourville attorney Jeff Arnold said Quarterman’s claims were, “totally inaccurate, unfounded and without basis in law and fact.”
Speaking after the meeting held Jan. 11, when the chief was fired, Arnold said the city was aware of accounting deficiencies in the 2015 and 2016 audits and taking measures to bring the matter under control
“She (Mayor Pray) wanted all of her department heads to operate under the same rules regarding overtime, which had been in place for some time but they were not being followed. So she directed Melissa Jones to follow the rules and to make all department heads follow the rules.”
A letter dated Aug. 16, 2017 from the mayor to Quarterman, Interim Fire Chief Anthony Burns, Public Works Officer Arnold Wilson and Jones, Pray requested that, “Effective Aug 16, 2017, all overtime must be approved by the Human Resources Administrator, Melissa A. Jones. Overtime must be approved by Ms. Jones prior to it being worked.”
Overtime was defined as hours worked more than 40 in the seven-day work period for public works and city hall employees, more than 53 hours per week in an established 14-day work period for the fire department and more than 43 per week in an established 14-day work period for the police department.
“Failure to comply with this memo will result in disciplinary action,” the letter stated.
Arnold said Jones notified all department heads and Quarterman was the only one who failed to comply, and did so twice.
Quarterman was first suspended on Nov. 9 for violating overtime policy, which the former chief said was necessary to ensure the safety of the city residents.
During his November suspension hearing Quarterman acknowledged the violation. Arnold said one of the conditions of the chief’s reinstatement was that he would comply with the overtime rules.
“In November, with a lawyer giving him advice and consent, he (Quarterman) agreed to provide that information and then never complied,” Arnold said.
Arnold said the city is having to pay fees and penalties due to the overtime not being reported correctly from the police department.
In a letter from Quarterman to city officials dated Dec. 13, about a week after he returned to duty from the Nov. 9, suspension the chief said, “When I first started looking into the Walthourville Police Department’s finances, my intent was to become more familiar with the finances and budgeting of my department, so that I could more efficiently and effectively run the Police Department. As I asked more questions I began to notice many discrepancies, in many areas, so I asked more questions to better understand. It was at this point that the harassment and hostility started toward myself and the entire Police Department.”
During the Dec. 12 city council meeting, Richard Deal of the CPA firm of Lanier, Deal and Proctor, presented the city’s annual audit for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016, noting a dozen deficiencies found by his firm that he said could easily be remedied if the city hired a finance director knowledgeable in government accounting.
The deficiencies were identical to those found in the 2015 audit Quarterman received a copy of.
In the 2016 audit expenditures exceeded appropriations within the general fund for the police and fire departments, street, sanitation and maintenance.
The over expenditures in these areas were funded by excess revenues over amounts budgeted and available fund balance.
Arnold said the city recognizes it must make improvements in their accounting procedures.
“The Mayor has a duty to, No. 1, look after the safety and the welfare of all citizens and to do so exercising financial and fiscal responsibility.”
He added that is the reason the mayor requested overtime be approved.
The city also held a department head meeting on Oct. 18 where the Mayor once again reviewed her hiring process and overtime approval and procedure.
During the Dec. 12 council meeting the city concurred with the findings of the audit and said they are working diligently to remedy the situations.
Councilman Vincent Pray said, “The city has safeguards in place to prevent this from reoccurring,” he said.
Jones said the annual audit is a requirement per the city charter. She said they’ve been seeking a finance director for some time but have not received qualified applicants. She said they would like to have a finance director in place by February.