Police Chief Ray Smith said today that public corruption charges could be filed against four Phenix City Parks and Recreation Department employees fired for using city owned equipment for personal gain. An internal investigation turned up records that suggest the activity has been going as long as five years, he said.
“This is disheartening as a city because this is not something we expect of our employees," Smith said at a morning news conference. "This incident again shows that we as a city and a management team are going to hold our employees responsible for the use of that equipment and the use of the city time.”
City officials released new details this morning of the scandal that has shaken up the department and resulted in the termination of four employees, including a superintendent. One former employee, Jimmy Jackson, already has been charged with theft of property. City officials haven't identified the other three employees who were terminated.
The initial complaint, made last month, alleged that city lawn care equipment was being used on private property. “They were using city equipment to basically take care of their own personal property, their own yard," Smith said. "That quickly blossomed out into other activities that were going on, including lawn care but other equipment and activities as well.”
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Police haven't released many details about the alleged improprieties because they are still interviewing witnesses and reviewing invoices. Some of the employees apparently had been hired to perform private work using city property.
“All four employees were engaged in activity that was in violation of city rules and regulations, and that included using equipment and or taking city equipment off the property," Smith said. “We’re not talking about paper clips and pens. We’re talking about large amounts of items.”
Smith said public corruption charges may be presented to a grand jury "to be reviewed to make sure that there's evidence there to substantiate that."
City Manager Wallace B. Hunter has begun a full inventory of the Parks and Recreation Department, and he also is assessing policy and procedures. "The safeguards were in place," he said. "They were just ignored."
The charges come about two years after several city utility workers were charged in connection with a copper theft ring uncovered by the police. "You would think that people have learned and the directors have meetings after meetings with our employees," Hunter said. "Some people are determined to go the other way.”
“It’s an embarrassment," Hunter added. "But it’s not all of our employees. We have some real good employees. It’s something that we plan to make sure that we correct, and I assume the responsibility.”