I have nothing to hide

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

MURFREESBORO – Lynn Johnson has mixed emotions.

On one hand, the second-term Murfreesboro Mayor said she is pleased to hear the news that the town council has stepped-up to the plate and finally answered questions to reasons why they dissolved the town’s Beautification Committee. On the other hand, she feels town officials still must address how proper protocol is violated in many cases dealing with approving purchases for governmental items. Contacted on Thursday night by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald after the Murfreesboro Town Council issued a press statement concerning the Beautification Commission earlier that afternoon, Johnson responded to that release as well as questions posed by this newspaper.

“I am relieved that the townspeople will finally have their questions answered as to the dissolution of the Beautification Committee,” Johnson said.

To begin her side of the story, Johnson alluded to the Jan. 24, 2006 town council meeting. There, she said a presentation was made by Beautification Committee member Craig Dennis in regards to a request for funding the replacement of 30-plus year-old, dry-rotten curtains with newer window treatments and to purchase eight new chairs, all for the council’s meeting chambers.

After discussing the issue, the council tabled the request.

Johnson claims the funding request made by the Beautification Committee is no different than if the town’s volunteer fire department had solicited funds for equipment. She said both receive funds from the town’s budget as well as from fundraising efforts.

“When needs arise for the Fire Department, bids/quotes are solicited from various vendors,” she said, referencing that a request from the Beautification Committee should have been treated no differently.

In regards to her signature winding up nearly two years later on purchase orders totaling nearly $5,000 for window treatments at the council’s chambers, Johnson said she follows the same purchasing policy as any other town department. She said that approval came from a town administrator and an interim town administrator. Showing copies of the checks written by the town to cover the cost of the window treatments, Johnson pointed out that those financial documents carried the signatures of the town’s former administrator (Molly Eubank) and interim town administrator (David Overton). She also referenced a disclaimer printed above the two signature lines on the town’s checks, one that reads, “This Disbursement Has Been Approved As Required By The Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act.”

“The point here should be taken quite seriously by all who sign checks,” Johnson said.

Johnson said at no time had she knowingly broken her oath of office of mayor. She also said there was a clear need of checks and balances for the town’s purchasing policies and a great need for cross training town personnel.

“I am greatly disturbed that just one day after I took my second oath of office, checks were prepared for me to sign and four of them were not in compliance with the policy,” Johnson recalled. “Council had not approved them and all four were over $1,000; therefore, a closer scrutiny needs to be in place for all.”

Johnson claimed there were other instances where proper protocol was not followed. She produced nine pages of purchase orders dating back to July of 2005. All were for purchases in excess of $1,000 (the council must approve anything over that amount). Johnson said she knew that council was not made aware of all those purchases.

She said there were instances where purchase orders were signed by those without the authority to do so (town code limits signatures to department heads or the town administrator only). Others, she said, bore no signature or the signature not legible.

“No clear policy has been in place for purchasing and procurement,” Johnson claimed. “If one says that it was, then it was certainly not enforced.”

In regards to her signature on the “Purchasing Agent” line of the two purchase orders for the window treatments, Johnson said she signed her name as instructed by Overton.

Johnson said she was also disturbed about a closed session that council used at their meeting on Tuesday of this week. She said items to be discussed in that closed session were clearly prohibited by North Carolina Open Meetings law. Johnson, who was included in the closed session, said among those items was discussion over the Beautification Committee, thus preventing those citizens in attendance during the open session an opportunity to listen and learn of the committee’s eventual fate.

“When in closed session, no one was taking minutes; therefore all the recount of {that} session would come from the town administrator,” Johnson said, making reference to Cathy Davison. “Her (Davison) probation period will be up on Jan. 31, 2008 at which time it will be reviewed for possible retaining.”

When asked by this newspaper who was responsible for circumventing the town council’s 2006 decision to table the request for new chairs and window treatments, Johnson said that fell on no one’s shoulders.

“No one, in my estimation, has set forth to circumvent any required channel of protocol in regards to these purchase orders and checks,” she said. “The interim town administrator (Overton) stated that there was money in our line item and as long as we did not overspend, it was proper.”

She added that the readers of this story should know that there remain two Certificates of Deposit made out for the Beautification Committee that total close to $5,000, the same amount for the line item of June, 2007. She said all of the monies from the CD’s came from private donations for the sole purpose of the Beautification Committee.

“I sincerely hope that this does shed a lot of light on the facts surrounding the window treatments and the Beautification Committee whose hard work has been certainly overshadowed by a lack of sitting down {and} discussing just exactly what took place,” Johnson concluded. “I have nothing to hide and if you only knew how much I have given to this town in material things as well as many on the committee, then you would know that doing something that would harm the town would be the last thing I would want to do.”