As part of the annual budget process, Grove City council members Ted Berry and Maria Klemack-McGraw are looking into purchases made by Mayor Cheryl Grossman on the city credit card.
City Administrator Sharon Reichard and Finance Director Howard Whitney authorized the hiring of an outside firm to perform a forensic audit that examined the fiscal practices of the city.
"Due to the auditor’s findings over the last two years related to inappropriate expenditures, we needed to ensure that we had the process and practices in place to ensure total compliance," said Berry. "The auditor was very clear in 2005 and 2006 about what was acceptable."
In 2005, the state audit found that the city expended public funds of $143 for the purchase of cookies as gifts. Grossman was said to have spent the funds. The audit also noted that city council did not enact an ordinance or resolution, which demonstrated what public purpose expenditures like cookies, would serve. The city did not have a policy that permitted the spending. In June 2006, the full amount was paid back into the general fund.
The audit performed in 2006 also found Grossman had allegedly expended approximately $119 in questionable purchases. Grossman repaid that amount in June 2007. At that point, the audit recommended the city pass a comprehensive public purpose policy that would provide guidance and direction to staff and supervisors as to what is viewed as proper spending of public money.
Grossman explained that in 2005, she sent cookies as a gift, on behalf of the city, to Congresswoman Deborah Pryce and Congressman David Hobson for their role in helping to secure federal funds for the State Route 665 improvement project. She also said the following year, she sent flowers to a city staff member on behalf of the city and took German exchange chaperones, visiting the city, out to dinner with her husband.
"The auditor said it was inappropriate spending so I repaid the amount," said Grossman. "Everything has been reimbursed."
"The practice of expending public funds over and over for questionable purposes and then subsequently correcting them is an unacceptable policy, and I believe unethical," said Klemack-McGraw. "We need to be as certain as possible that all payments are appropriate and documented in accordance with the law. To that end, we requested additional information."
The results from the special audit will be available next week but Klemack-McGraw described the preliminary findings as very disturbing.
"It is clear that Mayor Grossman has disregarded city administrative policies concerning reimbursement for mileage, state law regarding unbid contracts, and numerous findings in previous city audits," Klemack-McGraw alleged. "She routinely spent money for questionable purposes and failed to provide proper documentation. Her behavior is simply unacceptable and I believe unethical."
The preliminary audit found Grossman had failed to provide proper documentation for use of the city credit card. It also found money used for meals and the purchase of gifts.
According to the findings, Grossman spent $161 at Olive Garden in January 2007. The purpose of this expenditure is unknown as is a $91 purchase at Josiah’s Restaurant and a $35 purchase at Lillys. In April 2007, Grossman used the city credit card to buy "get well soon" cookies for former finance director Bob Behlen. That batch cost $72.55. In June, she paid nearly $40 for another gift basket of cookies.
"This has happened three times now," said Berry. "Only after she gets caught does she repay the amount. This is not her personal credit card."
He added, "I have no problem going to lunch on city business but you have to provide proper documentation."
Grossman said she does have receipts, that she turned in, for all the purchases and recently wrote a check of $172 for the items. She said she sent flowers and cookies out on behalf of the city.
"I have reimbursed everything that I had concern about and all the purchases were for city business," said Grossman. "I don’t feel that I have done anything wrong."
She added, "This is pretty political on their (Berry and Klemack-McGraw) part. It’s too bad people can be so vindictive."
The special audit is also reviewing a listing of all unbid city contracts from Reichard. According to the Ohio Revised Code, purchases over $25,000 have to be bid on when dealing with public money. Berry explained that there were several contracts awarded for large amounts that were not bid on and not approved by council. He said the city had entered into a contract with a local tree removal company for $66,000 and a landscaping company for $86,000.
The special audit was performed so the city would be in full compliance with a new mayor taking over and new council members ready to serve at the start of 2008. Berry and Klemack-McGraw said they intend to address these issues with the new city council and work to put control measures in place that would guard taxpayers’ money.
"The citizens of Grove City must be able to trust their elected officials to protect their tax dollars and to act lawfully and ethically," said Berry. "We will get to the bottom of this and ensure that this abuse and violation of the public trust does not occur again in Grove City."