Is anybody shocked that Jefferson’s city manager Jason Tinsley got caught misusing the city’s credit card for personal expenses?
It’s just further evidence that many public officials don’t give a damn about public service; it’s all about exploiting taxpayers for personal gain. The reality is, local government officials are notorious for abusing government credit cards and wasting taxpayer money.
Look at the ongoing investigation in DeKalb County led by former attorney general Michael Bowers. In an Aug. 5 letter, Bowers said the DeKalb government “is rotten to the core.”
Financial abuse in that government is reportedly rampant. One example Bowers gave in his letter was a county employee charged a cruise on a county card. The final DeKalb investigation report is expected later this month and will likely have more bombshells of abuse.
But it’s not just DeKalb officials that have abused public funds.
Remember the stink a few years ago when Pendergrass manager Rob Russell was found to have used that little town’s credit card to buy clothes, toys and to pay for other personal items?
Over three decades ago, a local sheriff was found to have kept the money from a Coke machine at the county jail, an amount that was in the thousands of dollars.
In the late 1990s, Jackson County had a part-time BOC member who racked up thousands of dollars in cell phone bills and mileage reimbursements.
And look at Nicholson today where Mayor Ronnie Maxwell is accused of misusing SPLOST funds to pave a private drive for his family.
That may not be the only abuse Maxwell has done with taxpayer money. The mayor and at least one council member apparently got paid for eight days to attend the Georgia Municipal Association convention in June, a convention that lasted only five days. Apparently, Maxwell had the city pay him and council member Faye Seagraves in advance for their mileage and $70 per day for those eight days with a hand-scribbled “receipt.”
Ugh. Nicholson’s government is an embarrassment to all of Jackson County.
And of course, there was the theft by former District Attorney Tim Madison in 2007 where he used money set aside for victim’s assistance programs to pay for rafting trips and other personal trips. What Madison was eventually convicted and sent to prison for was having an assistant district attorney double-paid by two counties (Barrow and Banks,) then receiving kickbacks from the ADA for part of the extra pay.
When your district attorney is a thief, you’ve got serious ethical problems in a community.
If there is anything good about Jefferson’s situation it’s that city bean counters caught the misuse and brought it to the attention of the mayor and city council. All too often, other public employees know about this kind of abuse, but are scared to speak out.
Where Jefferson leaders screwed up, however, was in trying to sweep Tinsley’s abuse under a rug. The council violated state law in having a closed-door meeting to learn about the details of Tinsley’s abuse. Then the council violated common sense by allowing Tinsley to resign and giving him a golden parachute of around $34,000 in severance benefits.
In other words, Tinsley abused the city credit card, then got a $34,000 reward for doing so.
The council should have fired Tinsley with no severance and then told the public what had happened. They should have made an example of Tinsley that such abuse of taxpayer money won’t be tolerated.
Instead, Jefferson officials circled the wagons because they were embarrassed and thought they could keep the details quite. Don’t they know there are no secrets in small towns?
There’s some thought that the situation in Nicholson will eventually lead to criminal charges. The GBI raided Nicholson City Hall last week. But if charges are eventually filed, it would be unusual.
The GBI investigated the mess in Pendergrass a few years ago and nothing came from that.
And District Attorney Brad Smith tip-toed around the Pendergrass situation, too. His timidity doesn’t bode well for anything being done in Nicholson.
The reality is, government officials often come to believe that they “deserve” more money and perks and don’t hesitate to abuse credit cards and other reimbursements for personal gain.
All of which proves the old adage that “it’s easy to spend other people’s money.”
With public funds, those “other people” are us, the taxpayers. It’s our money being abused.
And we ought to be mad as hell about it.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.