Law department bill raises ire

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Troubled by what looks to be a pattern of excessive spending, Joe Jackson has become the second Augusta commissioner to state publicly that he'll vote to fire General Counsel Chiquita Johnson.

Chiquita Johnson lost a previous job after an investigation found she misused a credit card.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Chiquita Johnson lost a previous job after an investigation found she misused a credit card.

He said so Monday after learning that Augusta's Law Department ran up nearly $5,000 on a Sam's Club account this year, with purchases that included silk trees, paintings and lots of snacks.

According to finance records from Jan. 1 to Dec. 16, reviewed by The Augusta Chronicle under an open records request, the $4,897 spent by Ms. Johnson's department was the highest debt incurred on any account except the sheriff's office's Criminal Investigation Division and the Recreation & Parks Department, which has multiple Sam's Club cards to buy concessions for sale.

While CID employees purchased equipment that included cameras and video recorders, Ms. Johnson's Sam's Club card was used to buy office decorations, an air-cleansing system and sanitizers, candy and juices, sodas and coffee cake, a water cooler and two Keurig Ultimate Single Server Coffee Systems.

The Sam's Club card was also used for office supplies, including pens, file folders and a shredder.

Mr. Jackson said he's livid that a law department with a small staff was spending thousands of dollars on amenities while the rest of the city was pinching pennies. He said he has been more upset, though, to learn through his own research that Ms. Johnson has spent more than $60,000 for Atlanta law firm Freeman, Mathis & Gary to handle airport matters when the budget for that was $18,000.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "How do you fathom spending that kind of taxpayer money? She's pushed her envelope."

Ms. Johnson did not return a call seeking comment about her office expenses.

Charge cards have been a problem for her before. Nine months before she was hired by the city as a staff attorney -- 10 months before she became interim general counsel -- Ms. Johnson was fired effective Feb. 1, 2007, from the Georgia Department of Public Safety's Legal Services Division for misuse of her government-issued credit card and financial irresponsibility, according to records obtained by The Chronicle , also through the Georgia Open Records Act.

An internal investigation by the Department of Public Safety revealed that Ms. Johnson, then deputy director of legal services, used her American Express corporate card to buy items from the Home Shopping Network, grocery stores and pharmacies, restaurants and a women's clothing store.

The Public Safety investigation further concluded that Ms. Johnson was delinquent in paying the card's balances for six of 14 months examined. For two months no payment was made, according to the report. The late payments and nonpayments resulted in financial penalties.

The credit card was intended for Ms. Johnson's travel on government business, but, according to the investigative report, the majority of the charges were not incurred that way. Of the 134 charges, only 24 were for government travel expenses. And, the report notes, many of the purchases were made on days Ms. Johnson was not working.

The records obtained by The Chronicle did not include any protest or response from Ms. Johnson concerning the credit card use. There was a protest from her concerning a performance evaluation for 2004, where she contended her immediate supervisor treated her unfairly, forced her to work a grueling schedule and falsely accused her of excessive absences.

According to the records, Ms. Johnson's salary at the time was $74,285, plus expenses. She is earning $125,000 a year as Augusta's general counsel.

Background check

Her previous firing apparently never came up when Ms. Johnson was hired by the city, and why it didn't is something of a mystery. There's nothing in her employee file indicating references were checked or previous employers contacted.

City job applications have sections for applicants to disclose past places of employment, including reasons for leaving. However, on Ms. Johnson's application those sections are blank, with an attached résumé listing her work history, but not why she left each job.

Normally, all applicants have to fill out the forms in full, Human Resources analyst Ron Clark said.

According to her résumé, after leaving Public Safety on Feb. 1, 2007, Ms. Johnson went to work in May as an associate with the Deming, Parker, Hoffman, Green and Campbell law firm in Norcross, Ga.

The Augusta Commission hired her in October on a recommendation from a commission subcommittee, headed by J.R. Hatney, charged with finding a new in-house general counsel and staff attorney after the firing of former city attorney Eugene Jessup. Mr. Hatney said Monday that he never received any information about Ms. Johnson having been terminated from another job earlier that year and that checking her background was the personnel department's responsibility.

Human Resources Director Rod Powell, who wasn't with the city at the time, said the task was handled by employment manager Moses McCauley, who retired earlier this month. Mr. McCauley did not immediately return a message left at his home by The Chronicle on Tuesday, but Mr. Powell said that, troubled by the situation himself, he asked Mr. McCauley about it.

According to Mr. Powell, Mr. McCauley checked with Public Safety about Ms. Johnson and was told she left voluntarily.

Looking for answers

Public Safety personnel Director Dan Roach said he finds that odd. No agreement was made with Ms. Johnson to give her a positive reference, he said.

"I can't imagine why somebody would have said that," Mr. Roach said of the "left voluntarily" statement.

Someone who calls his office to check out a former employee is told dates of employment, title held and salary when the employee left. Mr. Roach said he doesn't disclose anything else without a waiver from the employee. There's no document in Ms. Johnson's file indicating that someone from Augusta wanted more details.

But now Ms. Johnson's bosses on the Augusta Commission want some answers, starting with the Sam's Club spending.

"I do think it's a little excessive," Commissioner Corey Johnson said. "We'd have to look into it a little more in-depth to see the reason for it."

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason also said the spending seems questionable.

"I'm not sure exactly what the reason for that would be," he said, "but I'm interested in finding out."

City Administrator Fred Russell said he wasn't as concerned with what Ms. Johnson purchased as he is with the total amount, which exceeded spending in other city offices by a large margin.

The city doesn't have a set policy for what a department head can purchase at Sam's Club, but common sense should be expected, Mr. Russell said. Individuals are supposed to be responsible.

After Procurement Department Director Geri Sams questioned the recreation department's use of Sam's Club accounts in October 2006, a policy was initiated that requires her to approve all purchases at the store before payments are made. Ms. Sams did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Calls for change

Earlier this month, Commissioner Don Grantham was the first to say Augusta needs a new city attorney after Ms. Johnson floated proposals at the Dec. 15 meeting to change the city charter to beef up Law Department powers and to put possibly illegal restrictions on the news media.

In August, she raised eyebrows when the commission had to take $600,000 out of contingency and reserve funds so the Law Department could keep paying outside attorneys through the end of the year. The department had already spent $450,000, exhausting its legal fees budget, which Ms. Johnson blamed on "recent changes in federal law" and "a rise in countywide litigation." She also contended that many of the outside firms were hired by other city departments, such as the sheriff's office.

Commissioner Joe Bowles, among the most fiscally conservative members of the board, said he wouldn't make any comment on Ms. Johnson.

Asked whether he would vote to fire her, Corey Johnson said he can't say right now. "It may be best for her to resign," he said.

Reach Sandy Hodson and Johnny Edwards at (706) 724-0851.

SAM'S CLUB CHARGES

Total Sam's Club card bills, by department billing categories, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 16, excluding the Recreation & Parks Department, which has multiple cards for concession purchases and items for children and senior citizen programs:

Criminal Investigation Division $8,504

Law Department $4,897

Animal Services $4,357

Walton Way jail $1,879

Tax commissioner $1,760

Phinizy jail $1,186

Police training $1,139

Airport administration $822

Human Resources $775

Tag office $749

Procurement $542

Air/fire rescue $497

Outside legal $415

Clerk of commission $379

Water and sewer administration $372

Building Maintenance $294

Procurement print shop $287

Road patrol $259

Information technology $247

Fugitive squad $238

Sheriff's office records $223

Traffic engineer $199

Facilities management $170

Sheriff's office administration $122

Sheriff's narcotics division $90

Fire Department administration $15

Risk Management $15

Total $30,432

Comments (147) Add comment
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Riverman1
120652
Points
Riverman1 12/30/09 - 01:49 am
0
0
Running up the credit cards

Running up the credit cards sounds like what happened at her last job, working for the state. Heh, heh, heh. Oh, Chiquita, where to next?

Yosemitesam
0
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Yosemitesam 12/30/09 - 02:01 am
0
0
Waiting for Justus to lay out

Waiting for Justus to lay out the race card. She's black and they're picking on her. Whine, whine whine whine......yadayada yada..........Justus, will you please let Chiquita borrow your credit card?

Asitisinaug
4
Points
Asitisinaug 12/30/09 - 02:32 am
0
0
First, Joe Jackson is a stand

First, Joe Jackson is a stand up commissoner and could care less about race as he works well with all. Second, he personally as well as other commissoners don't even use county cell phones or gas cards in order to try and help out county since we are falling short in many area, namely public safety. This lady spends money foolishly, without permission on unnecessary crap like 2 single maker coffee machines at $175.00 each - that alone is worth firing but add t that the wasteful spending in Atlanta very much over budget along with her past history, and she should be immediately terminated. Just to make sure race has nothing to do with it, fire Fred Russell for his "lack of concern" over her spenidng as Sams and his lack of staying on top of where our money is going. How in the world can an employee of our government spend $50,000.00 on something where only $18,000.00 was approved - this alone warrants additional terminations if not criminal charges. Enough is enough and we need Joe Jackson, Corey Johnson and our other good commissoners to solve these issues once and for all.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 12/30/09 - 03:03 am
0
0
pennywise and pound foolish..

pennywise and pound foolish.. at least a few on the commission are working to save *some* taxpayer money by getting rid of Chiquita

Fiat_Lux
19975
Points
Fiat_Lux 12/30/09 - 03:05 am
0
0
This fruitcake uses our money

This fruitcake uses our money as if it were her own, and that is misappropriation of public funds. It's not just an offense that warrants termination from employment; it's a felony. She should be fired and prosecuted for this.

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 12/30/09 - 03:45 am
0
0
Apparently, Ms. Johnson's

Apparently, Ms. Johnson's spending habits lack a dose of common sense. In an era when the city is forced to make massive cut-backs, prudent judgement would dictate that she should hold off on any non-essential spending. This would include decorations, food, coffee makers, etc. My employer provides NONE of that. I have to bring in my own food (for all functions), decorations, etc. Forget the employer providing drinks. If I want something to drink, I can use a vending a machine or purchase a drink through the retail stand at our workplace. The problem with background checks is that it is almost impossible to obtain any meaningful feedback from past employers because of fear of litigation. The internet, professional networks and even social networks can help provide a much better indicator.

APiratesLife4Me
0
Points
APiratesLife4Me 12/30/09 - 03:45 am
0
0
Why is this train wreck no

Why is this train wreck no surprising? Time after time........

APiratesLife4Me
0
Points
APiratesLife4Me 12/30/09 - 03:46 am
0
0
Did chiquita get that fake

Did chiquita get that fake hair at Sam's too?

scott-hudson
10
Points
scott-hudson 12/30/09 - 03:53 am
0
0
Great job Sandy and Johnny in

Great job Sandy and Johnny in researching this stuff, I am proud!!

Brad Owens
5224
Points
Brad Owens 12/30/09 - 04:24 am
0
0
Well, if I was her, I would

Well, if I was her, I would get my bags packed and update my resume. Looks like the breaking of the 5-5 rule is having some CRAAAAZEEE effects on folks down there. This is how EVERY department should be looked at by the commissioners....with a fine tooth comb.

Brad Owens
5224
Points
Brad Owens 12/30/09 - 04:44 am
0
0
"Tax commissioner $1,760"

"Tax commissioner $1,760" What are they buying down there that they need? I would like to know about these expenses too.

LadyCisback
4
Points
LadyCisback 12/30/09 - 05:24 am
0
0
money troubles!!.. only in

money troubles!!.. only in disgusta!!

OutInSpace
0
Points
OutInSpace 12/30/09 - 05:24 am
0
0
I think she should have used

I think she should have used that card to buy a new blouse. Seriously, excellent reporting. Nice job, Sandy and Johnny!

Just My Opinion
7490
Points
Just My Opinion 12/30/09 - 05:45 am
0
0
First of all, all you had to

First of all, all you had to do was look at her picture and know that she was a "black woman with an attitude"! She wants things her way, and by danged if she ain't gonna get it! LOL! Yeah, gotta agree with everyone on here...it's a good piece of reporting, and I think it's enough that this will make the commissioners push her out the door pretty soon. But, guys, just remember, she's a "black woman with an attitude" (see included photo), so she's not going out without scratching and clawing! BTW, Chiquita?..I've got a shower curtain that looks just like that blouse of yours!

TrukinRanger
1804
Points
TrukinRanger 12/30/09 - 06:24 am
0
0
She could have smiled for her
Unpublished

She could have smiled for her mug shot.

Purelaughs
0
Points
Purelaughs 12/30/09 - 06:49 am
0
0
Pathetic. One would think

Pathetic. One would think that HR would preform background checks on fiscal responsibility for potential employees these days. It seems like every month the clowns in Richmond county are spending excessively with no punishment. Don't just seek to remove this person from the position look to press charges. If I were to commit such actions in the commerical world I'd be fired in a heartbeat.

OutInSpace
0
Points
OutInSpace 12/30/09 - 06:54 am
0
0
Brad, is this what you were

Brad, is this what you were hinting at a few weeks ago when you said be ready for a bombshell, or is there more?

bettyboop
8
Points
bettyboop 12/30/09 - 07:23 am
0
0
"City Administrator Fred

"City Administrator Fred Russell said he wasn't as concerned with what Ms. Johnson purchased as he is with the total amount".....Hey fred you idiot you should be concerned!.......,............ "After Procurement Department Director Geri Sams questioned the recreation department's use of Sam's Club accounts in October 2006, a policy was initiated that requires her to approve all purchases at the store before payments are made. Ms. Sams did not return a phone call Tuesday".........not surprised they both are trying to get as much as they can before they are booted....and fred needs to go with them.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
19157
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 12/30/09 - 07:26 am
0
0
From the excessive spending

From the excessive spending with law firms in Atlanta, I'd say there is a bigger shoe about to drop. I'm thinking "Kickback"!

getalife
6
Points
getalife 12/30/09 - 09:15 am
0
0
Ms. Banana should be

Ms. Banana should be terminated. Someone should check and see how much money was wasted on the outside law firm that helped her come up with her failed proposal. Evidently no one is checking on budget overruns and is not reporting that to the commissioners. She is a total waste of taxpayer money.

USA4Life
0
Points
USA4Life 12/30/09 - 09:19 am
0
0
If she is the City Attorney

If she is the City Attorney then why does Augusta still have such large bills for outside lawyers? Maybe they need to dig back to her law school records to see if she actually has a JD and is able to legally practice law. She has already shown herself to be ignorant of basic constitutional law.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 12/30/09 - 09:20 am
0
0
We forget politics in Augusta
Unpublished

We forget politics in Augusta boil down to black and white, simple as that. J.R. Hatney didn't need any references, Johnson was black and available, good enough for him. Jackson and Grantham don't really have a case: they're white and no matter what evidence they bring to the table, they're still white and she's still black. Sad to say, but that's just the way it is.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 12/30/09 - 09:23 am
0
0
The Fire Department
Unpublished

The Fire Department Administration and Risk Management must have lost their cards back in January haha.

justus4
124
Points
justus4 12/30/09 - 09:31 am
0
0
Wow! The extent that the AWM
Unpublished

Wow! The extent that the AWM goes to is never surprising and those minority individuals who hop onto this charade had better remember, U maybe next. That said, the city attorney must seek out-of-state legal minds to first, find out how private information, not pretaining to present employment, was released to the public. What individual/agency cooperated with the AWM to violate a governmental statute on privacy. (don't expect any local help) Then, prepare for a wrongful termination suit focusing on disparate treatment v. simuliarly situated non-minorities, then employ the Federal Equal Opportunity Act to apply pressure in disclosing volations of federal laws. The point is to legally expose the rampant discrimination being practiced and engage the federal government for oversight. The rot is too deep for locals to be objective, so every effort must be to include outside authorities. "They" are winning the public opinion battle, but smart leagl minds can demonstrate that the rule of law is what win out in a court of law - not opinions.

cparker
89
Points
cparker 12/30/09 - 09:31 am
0
0
We have more to worry about

We have more to worry about than a Sam's bill. Heck $1000 to Sam's seems to much to me, but she clearly didn't steal the money. This isn't news worthy to me...

Rad47
45
Points
Rad47 12/30/09 - 09:37 am
0
0
WOW! She obviously had plans

WOW! She obviously had plans to run for office as she certainly knows how to spend the money. For the life of me, I cannot believe she was hired with only a cursory, if any, background check. The blame cannot be passed on this one. HR should have gathered all the background info, check it for accuracy,interview the prospect, and only then let the so-called Search Committee(?) conduct an interview My guess is that many commissioners hire not on qualifications, but rather how well this person will refrain from rocking the boat. Just because she worked in Atlanta is not a qualification, but most likely a detriment. How much have has the county saved since letting Steve Shepard and his law partners go. I would bet the legal costs far exceed what they were in the past, especially with Ms. Johnson's affinity for Atlanta lawyers

Harrisburgsurvivor
2
Points
Harrisburgsurvivor 12/30/09 - 09:38 am
0
0
How much money has been spent

How much money has been spent in total to keep the X-mart adult book store closed?

USA4Life
0
Points
USA4Life 12/30/09 - 09:47 am
0
0
justus4 its nice to see your

justus4 its nice to see your interest in this case. I do have one question for you though. If a "non-minority" were in her shoes with the evidence gathered against them such as in this case would you not call for their termination?

stillamazed
1493
Points
stillamazed 12/30/09 - 09:48 am
0
0
Apparently the personnel

Apparently the personnel department wasn't doing their jobs so perhaps they should clean house in that department also.Apparently Ms. Chiquita Johnson is a little bananas.....

joekm46
0
Points
joekm46 12/30/09 - 09:50 am
0
0
May justice prevail! Get all

May justice prevail! Get all the crooks out of public office, including the ones in Washington DC. I hope God blesses our country again!!!

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