> By Tony Ahern
Call it Visa-gate, if you will.
A couple months ago, an employee of the city of Culver approached the Pioneer about rampant misuse of the city's credit card for personal uses by city recorder Jeri Jones. Now the employee has been terminated, lawsuits and ethics charges threatened, and the small town is again making big news.
The practice of using the city's card for personal purchases, even thinking it would be reimbursed, strikes a cord in most of us as wrong. Sure, in emergency situations usage of the card would be understandable, but to use the card for consumer goods on a regular basis is simply an abuse of public resources.
The argument that the use of the city credit card for personal purchases is not addressed in the employee handbook, therefore it's OK, is a weak argument at best. Anyone working for a public entity should know the importance of not using public property for personal gain. Using a city's credit card for a short term loan falls under that category.
However, the absence of the card usage, and the fact that it was allowed to continue for years, does underscore the fact that, if the purchases were all reimbursed in a timely manner, the infraction is relatively minor, should be forgiven, and city operation allowed to continue without major shakeup.
It doesn't appear that Jones made a big effort to hide the fact that the card was being used for personal purchases. Even the former employee who went public with the practice used it several times. This is no great cover-up.
Certainly the council, though, didn't realize the card was being used for personal purchases so often, if at all. Although they were lax in allowing such rampant use, once the whistle was blown, the council responded by writing the no-personal-use plank in its employee manual. The council also called for an investigation into the situation.
That investigation report comes up short, however, reading more like a support piece for an upcoming trial. It focused on why the practice of using the card for personal items was all right, includes personal references about the qualities of the people involved, but it ignores the most important aspect of the issue: proof of full reimbursement.
It appears to come down to this: if the employees reimbursed the city for their purchases, then the council has already addresed the situation: they've stopped the use of the card for personal items. If full reimbursement has not been made -- and hardfast evidence either way has not been made public at this point -- then the city has a larger problem.
The first step, stopping the misuse of the city's card, has been made. The second step, deciphering reimbursement, must be conducted. The Culver community deserves a full report.