Culver approves release of records
- Susan Matheny
- Madras Pioneer - News
Despite community grumblings, only one citizen showed up to ask questions about city employees' alleged misuse of the city's Visa credit card at Monday night's Culver City Council meeting.
Statements obtained by The Pioneer suggest that three public employees have purchased 40 personal items worth more than $3,000 since July 2001, using a government credit card issued to the city recorder. Several of the charges have been repaid, but all records from that time period have not yet been made available.
The Pioneer submitted a request last week to Culver City Attorney Paul Sumner to view corresponding receipts, four additional monthly statements from 2003, and the city's cash reimbursement journal.
At Monday's meeting, Culver resident Casey Schjoll asked, "Is the report done on the investigation?"
The city had hired Jim Smith of Smith Investigations Inc., to check into the credit card misuse charges. His 11-page report showed 11 purchases by three city employees, and said the purchases totaled $1,289 and were all paid back in cash or through payroll deductions. That information conflicts with the independent investigation done by The Pioneer.
Smith's full report was obtained and posted on the Pioneer's Web site last week, which irked some of the council members.
Schjoll was indignant when he was told the report was available on the internet. "We don't have internet," he replied. Arrangements were made to give him a printed-out copy of Smith's investigative report.
Council member Sam Clark was also concerned because city council members had not yet gotten a copy of the report.
"I'm upset because the paper got the report before the council did, and I don't think that's right," she said.
"I think that's good," Schjoll responded, noting the public has a right to the information too.
In a related matter, city attorney Sumner told the counselors he had received requests from both the Pioneer and Bend Bulletin for records on credit card purchases and repayments, and the council needs to set a policy for such requests.
"We need to have a policy in affect, and I will work on one for the next meeting. We need to deal with media requests in a more timely manner," Sumner said.
"Does this mean (the media will) have to wait until the next meeting to get the information?" Adams asked.
"No. I'd encourage you to authorize Jeri (Jones) to get assistance if needed to get the copies together," Sumner said.
Adams also requested that the councilmembers be given copies of the reports the newspapers had requested.
Agreeing that a records-release policy should be set up, Mayor Dan Harnden said, "It also gives citizens a way to look at those records."
Councilor Raymond Hire made a motion to authorize the information be given out to reporters, and to hire additional office help if needed while copying all the records. The motion passed.
In other business, Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 Fire Chief Earl Cordes told the council there were lots of changes at the Culver Fire Station.
Four student cadets and five new recruits have come onboard, and the chief's office is being converted to a day room so volunteers can stay overnight if they need to while on duty.
Cordes made a request saying, "We want to put signage on the building that indicates it's a fire station. It would read: Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 -- Culver Station."
The fire department and Culver City Hall are both located in different areas of the same building. The fire sign would go over the fire truck bays or out in front on the grassy area.
Councilmembers asked Cordes to return with some designs and cost estimates.
Public Works Director E.V. Smith reported on several projects. The city has closed the city burn pit to the public and is trying to clean it up. It previously had allowed the public to dump yard debris there, but furniture and other things were dumped, which led to problems.
"The DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) has confirmed there is asbestos at the burning pile, and we have to remove it," Smith said.
He has gotten estimates from one company to remove the 6 by 4-foot contaminated burn pile debris. He suggested the council table the issue until a second bid for the work comes in.
Smith reported on two pieces of city equipment. The city's 30-year-old backhoe is experiencing major problems and either needs to have its engine rebuilt or a used engine will have to be purchased.
The council authorized that approximately $6,856 be spent to overhaul the motor, since a used motor would cost about the same.
The city's old Massey-Ferguson tractor is not being used, and Smith suggested they put it on consignment or sell. The suggestion was approved. Smith was also given the O.K. to fix malfunctioning heaters in the fire hall bays.
Concerning street improvements, Smith was given the approval to apply for a $35,000 Small City Allotment grant to upgrade the gravel on 900-feet of Sixth Street from C to E streets.
Culver Police Chief Lee Farrester asked the council for approval to purchase two bulletproof vests for his officers. The two vests would cost $950, but reserve officers have raised $280 and a grant would provide $475, leaving $195 to pay.
"We're asking that the council cover the $195 until other fund-raisers are held. The reserves will pay for all of the vests by the end of the summer," Farrester said. His request was approved.
Farrester's second request was to purchase a taser for Culver's Police Department. He compared use of the taser to use of pepper spray, saying, "A taser is a tool that solves a lot of liability issues."
He said the sheriff's office has five tasers, Madras Police has four, and Culver Police would like to purchase one, with three clips for three officers to use, at a cost of $673. Councilmembers approved the request. They also O.K.ed $196 worth of repairs that need to be made to the city's police patrol car.
Under new business, Mayor Harnden said a fund was being started to purchase eight American flags to fly on holidays, since the city's banners were quite tattered.
"Several hundred dollars have already been contributed and we would like to make this a community project," Harnden said.
Harnden also announced his family has volunteered to do the monthly city newsletter free of charge, since the city office no longer has the staff to do it. Articles are to be turned in at city hall by the last Friday of the month.
Under old business, there was much discussion about the 20 by 60-foot tent the city has been renting to Culver citizens for special functions.
E.V. Smith said the $100 rental fee wasn't enough to cover his time to put the tent up and take it down, and suggested they charge more.
After several ideas were considered, the council passed a motion to charge $300 to rent the tent, with $100 refunded if it is brought back undamaged. There will also be a $40 per hour setup and take-down fee. The tent's use will be limited to areas no further south than Ogden Wayside and Culver School District boundaries on the north.