Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Plainfield's health, finance departments under scrutiny
By CHRISTA SEGALINI
PLAINFIELD -- The city's Health, Planning and Finance departments are among those officials have asked state and county authorities to audit and investigate for possible personnel violations and unauthorized expenditures.
Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Plainfield, said Tuesday the three departments, and several employees who work in the departments, are included in an investigation the city administration has been conducting since the start of the new year.
Green said Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs launched the investigation when she took office in January to determine whether certain unidentified city employees were disregarding policy and authorizing expenditures without the required approvals.
"It seems these people don't care who the mayor is, or who the council president is, and just decide not to follow procedures," Green said. "It's an issue of not having things managed correctly."
On Monday, Robinson-Briggs and council president Rayland Van Blake announced they had requested the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the Union County Prosecutor's Office to conduct an audit and investigation into certain unauthorized city expenditures and potential personnel violations.
Executive Assistant Prosecutor Bob O'Leary from the Union County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday that he could not comment on the matter, but he did say the office received information from the city and is in the process of reviewing it.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs did not return calls seeking comment.
Robinson-Briggs and Van Blake said documentation was found during the past week showing that at least six city employees skirted policies and procedures in the past few years, some instances which may have led to contracts being awarded and expenses being approved without proper authorization.
Robinson-Briggs declined to say how much money the administration believes may have been spent without the required consent but did say it was less than $1 million.
Green said the vast majority of the employees under investigation are union employees who also were employed under the administration of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Green said two of the employees are from the city's Planning Department, and another employee is from the Health Department.
McWilliams said Tuesday that during the eight years he was the city's mayor, there was never an instance that he could recall where an employee did not follow procedure or violated city policy by authorizing expenses without the required approvals.
"Even if I didn't know about it right away, all of that would have come up in an audit," said McWilliams, who said the city was audited annually by Suplee, Clooney & Co. of Westfield when he was mayor.
"Audits show what was spent, who authorized it and what procedures were followed," McWilliams said.
Green declined to say whether former City Administrator Carlton McGee was named as one of the six city employees the administration would like state and county officials to investigate.
In addition to being the city administrator, McGee was the acting director of the city Finance Department until he resigned in October to take a job as the chief financial officer for the Atlanta Public School District. His last day with the city was this week.
McGee was involved in several disputes with City Council members earlier this year over access to information and procedural discrepancies.
In one instance, McGee admitted in September to securing TKG & Associates to prepare the sale of $12.6 million in bond anticipation notes without the consent of the City Council. McGee said the decision was made for the city to meet the deadline for the notes' expiration.
Although McGee said he did not contract with the company until City Council passed a resolution authorizing the payment of $25,000 to TKG, several City Council members said they were upset about the process.
McGee did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Green said the notes issue was not one that prompted city officials to ask for an independent review of city expenditures, but is an example of the communication breakdown that occurs when city employees do not follow procedure properly.
Councilman Cory Storch said council members were made aware a few days ago about the administration's intent to ask for an independent investigation into city expenditures.
"I was somewhat surprised tp hear about the investigation, but I was beginning to see irregularities -- a certain disregard for policy," Storch said. "As long as state and county officials conduct an objective and not politically-oriented investigation, I think this will be a good thing. If it looks like there might be politics involved, City Council has power to do its own investigation."
Christa Segalini can be reached at (908) 707-3142 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.