Pahokee mayor calls special meeting after IG report cites Manager Williamson

PAHOKEE — After the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General released its third report within the past two years on Tuesday, citing financial and managerial improprieties by Pahokee City Manager Chandler Williamson, Mayor Keith Babb Jr. has called a special meeting for Tuesday, June 30.

The 50-page narrative “City of Pahokee Inappropriate Purchasing Card Expenditures” was issued Wednesday, June 24. The next morning, Pahokee City Commissioner Regina Bohlen emailed the manager requesting that a special commission meeting be called. Ms. Bohlen said she intends to push for his contract to be terminated. The mayor was contacted and posted a notice on his Facebook page stating: “I have called for a Special Meeting of the City Commission of the City of Pahokee, Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 6 p.m. This meeting will be held by teleconference/Zoom. Topic: OIG Report.”

Inspector John A. Carey and the OIG staff began investigating complaints of improper credit card use by Mr. Williamson in May 2019, the report states. Their investigative report finds that the main allegation — “City Manager Williamson made purchases using a City of Pahokee credit card between June 2015 and May 2019 in violation of city policies” — is confirmed by its findings. The OIG’s office proceeded to review the city charter, travel policy, personnel rules and regulations, the manager’s employment agreements, financial and vendor records, and interviewed multiple city employees including the mayor.

The report concludes that Mr. Williamson used a city credit card for expenses that were unrelated to city business; for travel expenses that lacked documentation; for excessive travel expenses; and for unallowable expenses. It identified costs of $5,841 that he “should reimburse to the city” and questioned costs of $15,941 that lacked official documentation.

“We also found sufficient information to warrant referral of our finding to the State of Florida and Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics for a determination of whether City Manager Williamson violated the State of Florida and/or Palm Beach County Codes of Ethics,” it said further, then proceeded to list six recommendations to assist “appropriate oversight over the city manager’s expenditures.”

The OIG found several, repeated instances of improperly booked rental cars and travel, according to its report:

• During Thanksgiving Week 2016, Mr. Williamson rented a car in West Palm Beach, stating he was going to economic development meetings in Key Largo, but instead drove nearly 2,000 miles from Pahokee to South Carolina, Georgia and Central Florida, according to the OIG’s tracking of his personal credit card use during the five days from Nov. 23 through Nov. 27.

• For four years, 2015 through 2018, Mr. Williamson used the city credit card to pay for travel and lodging expenses “associated with his attendance at the homecoming weekend of his alma mater, Benedict College. He used the city credit card 21 times to rent vehicles between June 2015 and February 2019 and to purchase 16 flights to Atlanta, where his relatives live, or Columbia, S.C., during his annual college alumni homecoming weekends.

• For the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas May 19-22, 2019, City Manager Williamson and Mayor Babb traveled apart, stayed at separate hotels and Mr. Williamson used the city credit card for two previous, more expensive hotel nights, extending his trip by taking two days of personal time. His lodging and travel expenses for that trip were more than double Mayor Babb’s, and his flight cost was about $1,600, including a fee for “main cabin preferred seat.”

For all those flights and hotel costs, the OIG’s tally was $5,385.07 that City Manager Williamson owes the city. The report further states: “Additionally, we have referred this matter to the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office for a determination as to whether City Manager Williamson’s use of the city credit card for travel unrelated to city business constitutes a criminal act under … Florida Statutes.”

Mr. Williamson and the city government were given 10 days to respond to the OIG report in a June 2 letter from the OIG. The manager’s eight-page letter on city letterhead dated June 19 addressed the allegations individually but ultimately agreed with the conclusions and promised remedial actions, stating: “Without intent or for personal gains there were a few examples he simply wasn’t aware the wrong card was selected when confirming online travel or reservations. Mr. Williamson is diligently taking the precautions to ensure those oversights are mitigated and are prevented in the future.”

The city’s one-page response from City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks, dated June 22, said the city would have no immediate comment except to decline to address the report in a public meeting because “the draft report from you is considered confidential until such time that the report is considered a public document.”

She said she had no independent knowledge of the issues raised in the report since they “are allegations that precede my tenure … however, I know that the six recommendations will be considered by the City Commission at the appropriate time.”

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