Hearn explains his use of county credit card, disciplinary action

Tue, 07/22/2008 - 4:08pm
By: Letters to the ...

When I decided to run for the office of county commissioner, I made a commitment to my supporters that I would conduct my campaign in a clean and positive fashion.

In keeping with that promise, I have provided my platform and have tried to focus on issues that are important to our quality of life in Fayette County. I would hope that the citizens have taken note of the fact that I refuse to run a negative campaign and are appreciative of the issues-based approach that I have taken.

Unfortunately, my opponent and some of his supporters have chosen to take a totally different path. Rather than discuss the merits of their platform, the way they want to win this election is to attack my character and make statements about my positions on certain issues that are totally untrue.

During the course of talking to voters during the last week of the campaign, I have come to the realization that too often they cast their vote based on the misrepresentations contained in last-minute articles in the newspaper and letters to the editors.

Fortunately for me, I am now in a runoff with Peter Pfeifer and have the opportunity to provide the facts to the voters so that they can make an educated decision on Aug. 5.

First, I would like to set the record straight about how I used the purchasing card (p-card) as the public works director of Fayette County.

During the first seven months of 2005, my P-Card had 136 transactions (swipes) and we spent $26,712. We purchased parts for fleet repairs; parts for tractor repair from Wade Tractor; hardware from Miles Ace Hardware; and parts for equipment repairs from Atlanta Freightliner, Fayette Mower, Peach State Ambulance and Yancey Brothers to name a few. All of these are expected and normal expenses for fleet and road department operations.

Mr. Cofty, the county administrator, had instructed me to use the P-Card to order parts and materials to assist with the efficiency of our operation and limit the out of service (downtime) on our equipment. The limit on my P-Card was set at $5,000 because many parts for the off-road equipment are more than $2,000, which was the original limit.

The payment for striping county roads in 2003 over a nine-month period using the P-Card had Mr. Cofty’s approval. We routinely obtained quotes to ensure we were spending the tax dollars wisely.

My recollection is that Mr. Thompson asked me if we purchased equipment with the P-Card, not about the striping of county roads. Hence, that is where the confusion arose when I provided my answer for Wednesday’s article.

The audit that was conducted in 2005 found that I had not purchased anything inappropriate. No action was taken against me as a result of the audit. The new county administrator (Venice) did make changes in how we used the P-Card and I fully complied with her request. Thus, it is important to understand that there were different rules in place for different time frames.

In responding to this issue, I would suggest that one needs to examine the credibility of Mr. Pfeifer’s allegation that certain purchases violated county purchasing policies.

To do that, one would want to look at the system of internal controls that were in place. For those that may not be familiar with purchasing cards, they are basically credit cards that may be used to make certain purchases.

One major difference is that the user’s purchasing restrictions are embedded information in the magnetic strip on the back of the card. Since the transactions that Mr. Pfeifer refers to were completed, then obviously those purchasing thresholds were not violated.

The next internal control that is in place to ensure compliance with board policy is the signing of accounts payable checks. Each of the invoices that Mr. Pfeifer refers to would have been seen and approved by both the county administrator and the chairman of the Board of Commissioners. This administrative review of all invoices takes place as part of the check-signing process.

For Mr. Pfeifer’s allegations to be true then, Greg Dunn, Chris Cofty and Chris Venice would all have been willing participants in approving invoices and signing checks knowing that they violated board policy.

In short, as a department head, I was given authority to make purchases with the P-Card which were necessary to keep the operation running smoothly. We used the P-Card appropriately and spent the taxpayers’ funds wisely. And most importantly, we always compared prices to ensure we were getting the best price on items.

Concerning the disciplinary action taken against me in March of 2007, I offer the following. I disciplined a county employee that violated county policy. The discipline consisted of a written reprimand. In the nine years of employment of this employee, this was the first disciplinary action taken. I felt, as a department head, that this was the appropriate action for this offense.

Chris Venice disagreed with my handling of this. She gave me an ultimatum with two choices: (1) Terminate the employee and I would face no disciplinary action, or (2) suspend the employee for 10 working days and I would face a three-day suspension. The employee had made an error but it was not a grievous error, therefore, I chose option 2. In short, Venice and I were not a good match in terms of management styles.

I believe it is ironic that the county administrator (Venice), who was the last person to whom an employee would appeal a disciplinary action, would become so involved as to negate the due process afforded an employee. How could Venice be impartial in the appeals process if she ordered the disciplinary action?

Lastly, I wanted to correct a statement made by Mr. Bost in one of his recent letters. He stated that I was a “strong advocate of bringing MARTA buses into Fayette County.”

For those citizens that may have attended the candidate forums, you know that I have always said that I do not see MARTA as a solution to Fayette County’s transportation needs.

As additional evidence, you only need to look at the road improvement work that I have done in the past for the citizens of Fayette County.

Being new to the political arena, it saddens me that Mr. Bost would try to mislead the voters by making such a statement. Remaining in that positive mode that I promised, I only hope that he has a safe trip back to Florida where he claims residency.

I am disappointed that Mr. Pfeifer would use his position to obtain personal information to attempt to discredit my character and integrity. Finally, I think that Mr. Bost’s actions speak for themselves.

In going forward, I can only hope that Mr. Pfeifer will be willing to discuss the issues that impact the citizens of Fayette County and refrain from running a negative campaign.

I have worked with several county managers and have had much success over the past 16 years working for various county governments. I sincerely believe that the institutional knowledge and contacts that I have gained during my career will be of great benefit to the citizens of Fayette County. I hope that the voters see these last minute assertions for what they are and make the right choice on Aug. 5.

Lee Hearn

Brooks, Ga.

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