Jackson Police Chief Malcolm McMillin today criticized the Jackson City Council today for publicly demanding an investigation into possible misuse of fuel cards by city employees, opining that council members were incriminating workers before an investigation was complete. "Maybe we should have looked at these things before we make these allegations
in a public forum that reflects on the integrity of the employees of the city of Jackson," McMillin told the council at a Monday meeting.
Ӆ If there's criminal activity, that would be a matter for the police department or sheriff or DA or a grand jury. But to stand in front of this body and say those things is totally unprofessional to me, because I can't make accusation that I can't back up, and I can't allege things without a thorough investigation."
City Auditor Valerie Nevels reported to the council at the meeteing that she had not uncovered any overt theft in her ongoing investigation of alleged misuse of city gas cards. "We did not find any indication of theft," Nevels said, and then referred to three city employees in the JATRAN department who had accrued considerable suspicious activity, according to Fuelman records. "What we found was that those three employees were responsible for filling all of the buses, so naturally they would have the most exceptions, and they had the highest exceptions."
The council met Monday for an update on the city's problem with alleged fuel theft. In early December, council members voiced concern that more than 80 percent of city employees with city-paid gas cards were not properly tracking odometer readings, and could be abusing the card and stealing gas from the city. Council members pointed out in December that the city spent $4.6 million in fiscal year 2008 on fuelincluding police patrol vehicles, which amounts to almost $90,000 a weekbut used very little accountability for those expenditures.
Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill, who first broached the topic in December, claimed the city was not following three of the council's four recommendations on dealing with the issue.
Reports showed the city ignored the council's first recommendation to reduce the number of employees with card access, with employee access to fuel cards actually going up by 45 individuals since the Dec. 1 hearing addressing the matter.
"From July 9 to Oct. 7, there were 1,088 employees with card access. From Oct. 8 to Dec. 31 there are 1,146," Weill said today.
Nevels explained that city employees had been sharing account numbers with other employees with a verified need to refuel vehicles on the city's dime, andduring the course of Nevels' investigationthe city issued gas cards to those individuals to end the number sharing.
The second recommendationthat the city prohibit manual key-inshas been so minimal as to be nonexistent, dropping from 3,543 manual key-ins to 2,957, though the latter figure was achieved during a period that was one week shorter than the period producing the former number. Manual key-ins do not require the city employee present the city gas card, or even the buyer's photo ID, and some council members fear that city employees could be handing off manual key-in numbers to friends, relativeseven black-market buyersfor misuse on the city's bank account.
Nevels explained that cutting away the manual key-ins would mean doing away with at-the-pump purchases, although Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon questioned why paying at the pump was so important.
"I don't see what's wrong with going inside the store and buying the gas face-to-face with the attendant," Barrett-Simon told the Jackson Free Press
The council had also made a third recommendation that the city actively restrict employees to fewer fuel locations, since manual key-ins were happening as far away as the towns of Liberty and Brookhaven. Since the December recommendations, the city has reduced the number of available fuel stops from 168 to 166, essentially no change at all, according to Weill.
Nevels explained that Fuelman stop-points were designated by fuel-supply companies, not the city of Jackson, and answered the council's fourth recommendation, that the city take "vigorous administrative action on card abuse," by explaining that her investigation had not uncovered any incidence of theft.
"When it comes to these Fuelman expenditures, I have no reason to doubt that there were this many exceptions, but we looked into JATRAN's experience and found out that these were because three people were responsible for filling up these buses," McMillin told Council.
Barrett-Simon said she would make "no apologies for wanting the answers to these questions."
"The public is demanding that we have answers to this," she said. "We're in a tough situation here because we generally can't get the information we need from the administration to do our work.
This is about oversight and accountability, two democratic requirements that have been almost entirely absent in Jackson government for years. I applaud the Council for demanding an investigation into possible misuse of funds. It's the kind of demand a responsible, grown-up city council should make.
- Brent Cox