The discovery resulted in the resignation of Recreation Director Ronnie Reeves, a 20-year department employee, and the dismissal of his administrative assistant Tracy Gentry, who had been with the department for 16 years.
Officials have decided not to pursue criminal charges in connection with the excess funds.
“We feel as though there was no criminal activity,” said Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer Friday morning. “We just feel as though it was mismanaged funds.”
“(This was) really a matter of responsibility and trust,” said City Administrator Eddie Peterson.
City officials were alerted to the situation the night of Tuesday, Sept. 14, when a temporary employee discovered the funds and told a former recreation department employee who in turn alerted police, Palmer said. The next day, the recreation department was closed so law enforcement personnel could secure the building and transport the money out of it.
Responsibility for the state of the money fell on Gentry and Reeves.
It would have been Gentry’s duty to deposit the funds, “and Ronnie was her direct supervisor,” Peterson said.
The funds, Palmer said, were not stored in a “secure place.”
The money, $44,074 in total, was found in 31 different places in the recreation department administrative offices. Origin has been determined for all but about $9,500 of it, which probably came from concessions sales, Peterson said. Most of the remaining money came from program registrations, gate fees, rentals and concessions, he explained.
Officials found receipts dating back to 2008, Peterson said.
An internal audit will continue “for quite some time,” he said, and the city is working with external auditors, as well, to confirm the origin of the funds. The external audit will be part of this fiscal year’s overall external audit process.
Although the department reopened Thursday, Sept. 16, and normal recreation activities resumed, Reeves and Gentry took leave until his resignation and her dismissal Thursday, Sept. 30.
Public outcry escalated to a roar as Reeve’s leave of absence grew longer and no further explanation had come from the city. Community members packed the Calhoun Depot during the Monday, Sept. 27, city council meeting asking for more information; at one point, the crowd rose to its feet and chanted Reeves’ first name.
John Leggett, Gentry and Reeves’ lawyer, said Friday morning that their leaves of absence were paid but mandatory.
City officials sent Gentry and Reeves home from their jobs Sept. 15; the city offered them both the option of resignation in place of termination on Sept. 20, Leggett said.
When both initially refused to resign, the city engaged in negotiations with them and Leggett that ended with both Gentry’s and Reeves’ eventual resignations, Leggett said.
However, after the Sept. 27 council meeting, “for reasons unknown to us, the city changed its position,” Leggett said, and Gentry was dismissed.
The two situations were ultimately handled differently, said Palmer, because the two employees hiring processes were different. Department heads are appointed by the mayor and council at the beginning of each year, but department heads are heavily involved in the hires of most of their employees, he said.
“Everything has been at the behest of the city,” Leggett stated. “He (Reeves) wishes he still had his job.”
Leggett said Gentry plans to appeal her dismissal.
According to city policy, Gentry had five working days from the date of her dismissal to appeal the action, Peterson said. An appeal would result in a public hearing, which would lead to either a reversal or an affirmation of the dismissal. The situation can proceed to superior court if the employee still is not satisfied with the outcome of the process, he said.
Leggett said his client plans to have her job back after the public hearing.
Reeves and Gentry, Palmer said, are father and daughter. The city has an anti-nepotism policy, that does not allow immediate relatives to work together “in regular permanent or regular non-permanent positions … were one of the parties would have authority (or practical power), to supervise, appoint, remove or discipline the other; or where one party would be responsible for auditing the work of the other,” the personnel policy states.
However, Gentry was hired when the recreation department was a joint city/county venture. When the department split into separate departments in the late 1990s, the city allowed them to work together directly.
“We allowed her to stay because she had been there four years,” Palmer said. “In hindsight, we should have looked into it a little closer.”
The investigation process, Peterson explained, took longer than perhaps a private sector investigation because the city pursued every avenue of investigation in order to be fair to the employees involved.
The fact that Gentry and Reeves both secured attorneys when the investigation began also put the brakes on the process, Peterson said, adding that they “had every right” to do so.
“Our efforts,” said Palmer, “were, among other things, to protect the employee.”
Now, the city will begin the process of putting someone in place to direct the recreation department.
“We anticipate that being from eight to 12 weeks,” the mayor said.
The hiring process includes advertising the position.
The city’s objective, he said, is to “carry on right now with the employees we have in place.”
Other city employees will be on hand to help facilitate the continued operation of the department’s programs.
“Ronnie is a 20-year employee and has been a valuable employee of the city of Calhoun … I do feel like it’s one of the hardest jobs in the city … we appreciate his service,” Palmer said. “We certainly like and appreciate them (Reeves and Gentry), but we’re doing what I feel like the city is forced into doing,” said Palmer.