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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OutInSpace
0
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OutInSpace 12/30/09 - 09:52 am
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USA4, she is NOT a minority

USA4, she is NOT a minority in Richmond County.

donkeywhisperer
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donkeywhisperer 12/30/09 - 09:54 am
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"spent more than $60,000 for

"spent more than $60,000 for Atlanta law firm Freeman, Mathis & Gary to handle airport matters when the budget for that was $18,000...the commission had to take $600,000 out of contingency and reserve funds to keep paying outside attorneys through the end of the year. The department had already spent $450,000, exhausting its legal fees budget." HELLO! LEGAL FEE AUDIT TIME! Investigate how this "lawyer" selected, managed, evaluated, and compensated outside counsel; her "process" of reviewing their firms’ bills; review each line of every bill for accuracy and compare to services received. Who really did the work? What was done to earn $450K? How did she determine hourly or flat rates for these firms? How does it compare to "local fees"? Was there no local firm capable of doing the work? (Answer surely = no.) Augusta has some $ coming back it's way when this is done. Audit will pay for itself. Start a criminal investigation...bring back the FBI. "The Truth Will Set You Free. Amen!"

apex24
0
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apex24 12/30/09 - 09:55 am
0
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Well, I'll give anyone one

Well, I'll give anyone one guess as to how this thing will shake out. We all know there will be some kind of racism involved, that's standard operating procedure for blacks. The same old story, a black government official gets caught but you can't fire or prosecute because they're black and the racism BS. According to RCR, Justus, Ispy, etc. the rules and regulations don't apply to black officials.

citizen7
49
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citizen7 12/30/09 - 10:01 am
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Isn't newsworthy, cparker?

Isn't newsworthy, cparker? Are you kidding me?! In this economy? I found her past spending habits and termination very enlightening. This type of media reporting needs done more often. As for comparing this story to X-mart... same tired ole' argument: "You should be worrying more about 'A' (my favorite cause) than 'B' (which I could care less about)".

raptcontemplation
4
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raptcontemplation 12/30/09 - 10:08 am
0
0
Justus - use

Justus - use spellcheck.

Chiquita - time to go.

OutInSpace
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OutInSpace 12/30/09 - 10:10 am
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I'm telling y'all, whatever

I'm telling y'all, whatever she sues for when she gets fired will be more than the $125k the last black female to get fired got due to legal incompetence representing the county.

windsor41
0
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windsor41 12/30/09 - 10:15 am
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how much money do we have to

how much money do we have to pay the aduld store on gorden hwy.because our commisioner voted agains that?$4800 is nothing,when we have to pay millions to the owners of that co.

fred1217
4
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fred1217 12/30/09 - 10:38 am
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Only the Augusta Chronicle

Only the Augusta Chronicle could make the purchase of office supplies and snacks sound criminal. Why didn't they do an expose on the cases that caused the Law Department to be over budget (e.g., discrimination lawsuits and Sheriff's Dept. litigation)? This amounted to more than the $4,897 Sams bill. If the County is doing things to get sued, you're going to have legal expenses. This is clearly a smear campaign to open Ms. Johnson's job up for someone that will be more "flexible" for the new "6 Man" majority. Where was this type of indept review when the Parks and Recreation Department Head was under fire? I guess in January, one of the six majority commissioners will say he's gotten a lot of letters from local attorneys saying how hard it is to work with Ms. Johnson...Seen this script before, but this time I think it's going to cost Richmond County tax payers more than $125,000.

RIPAmerica
0
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RIPAmerica 12/30/09 - 10:40 am
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I must pass drug tests and

I must pass drug tests and have current background checks annually to keep my contracts and I have far less public responsibility than those of the City Attorney. There is much more rot here than one woman.

OutInSpace
0
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OutInSpace 12/30/09 - 10:44 am
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fred, why don't you offer

fred, why don't you offer justification for her actions (since that is what the story is about) rather than try and deflect attention elsewhere in the typical liberal sissy fashion like all y'all do with indefensible positions. "Liberalism is a mental disorder". EXPLAIN WHY THE HECK SHE SPENT THE MONEY ON PARTIES AND NON-ESSENTIALS IN THIS ECONOMY! C'mon, do it, big man.

Does_it_really_matter
1
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Does_it_really_matter 12/30/09 - 10:45 am
0
0
Wow...where's the

Wow...where's the accountability? Where is the average Joe public outrage? I don't understand that more people aren't upset by this.....this is your money! Demand to know where and why it is spent!

RIPAmerica
0
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RIPAmerica 12/30/09 - 10:49 am
0
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The rot is poor management. A

The rot is poor management. A GOOD manager knows how to properly document employee issues without discern for racial or sexual discrimination. A GOOD manager would review employees honestly and fairly, be the result positive or negative. A GOOD manager never fears putting a negative review in any employee's file. Ultimately, does this not lead to the City Administrator? Anyone who approved the hiring for this most responsible position any candidate, without extensively checking all bona fide job qualifications, should be fired. (Can I add having a person fill out a job application in their own hand can give an interviewer an amazing insight into the applicant being interviewed and is an absolute necessity in good hiring practices.)

onethickdiva
1558
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onethickdiva 12/30/09 - 10:49 am
0
0
Why did I buy a house in

Why did I buy a house in Richmond County?

Apex24, she could be purple polka dots and I'd hang her out to dry! Her blackness only angers me because she is making a fool of herself and from the comments/opinions people may look sideways at me when giving me the company card. So much for the content of the heart and not the skin color.

1of the frontrowgang
0
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1of the frontrowgang 12/30/09 - 10:51 am
0
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Another hiring to please the

Another hiring to please the black commissioners. When are we ever going to learn? Hire a person that is qualified,not because of the color of their skin. Also, Fred Russell or the HR department did not do their job on the background check. Suspend who ever didn't do their job without pay for a week.

BOBO
0
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BOBO 12/30/09 - 10:53 am
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You mean to tell me that on

You mean to tell me that on her employment application she left lines blank but handed in her Resume that she created and flowered up and NO ONE looked into this? If i left line blank on a test these would be marked WRONG and no credit given.

Augusta you really are weak...

fred1217
4
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fred1217 12/30/09 - 10:53 am
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OutinSpace, her attorney will

OutinSpace, her attorney will do that at her wrongful termination hearing. Why do you drink the Augusta Chronicle's Kool-Aid? Are you that naive or just plain STUPID? Don't let them lead you by the nose. Do you really think the Augusta Chronicle care about $4,897 of Richmond County Taxes? You have to think out of the box that the AC is painting for you. That's all the help I can give you OutinSpace.

justthefacts
22198
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justthefacts 12/30/09 - 10:57 am
0
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justus and fred are probably

justus and fred are probably correct about one thing. Getting her out will probably cost a ton of money. That is exactly why minorities, women, and older folks are risky to hire. If you make a bad hire, as is the case here, it is extremely difficult to correct. If the young, white male turns out to be a bad hire, you can fix it in about twenty minutes.

jackragg
0
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jackragg 12/30/09 - 10:57 am
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DNFTT!!!!!!! I don't know

DNFTT!!!!!!!
I don't know why y'all even respond to Justus. From seeing his posts for awhile it's obvious he's a troll. He probably works for the paper itself. Notice that for every comment he/she/it makes it generates at least five on average. Full comment sections show advertisers that a newspaper is generating interest. If you don't know what a troll is check the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29

noone
4
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noone 12/30/09 - 11:00 am
0
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Those purchases are blatant

Those purchases are blatant abuses of taxpayer funds,
OFFICE DECORATIONS, SODAS & JUICES, CANDY AND COFFEE CAKE, TWO $175 COFFEE MAKERS? i can see how office supplies could be NEEDED, AIR PURIFIER AND SANITIZER, WATER COOLER TOO, BUT ALL THE OTHER? Whats wrong with a 30 dollar coffee maker. How about asking employees to bring decorations and food if there is going to be an office party

apex24
0
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apex24 12/30/09 - 11:02 am
0
0
Fred Russell is a

Fred Russell is a noodle-back. He will not stand-up to anyone much less a arrogant, big mouth black woman. But then if he did guess where he would be. GONE!!!!

BOBO
0
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BOBO 12/30/09 - 11:02 am
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keep her, this is so

keep her, this is so funny..... I want to write a book called listen to the lawyers you can always trust them!

fred1217
4
Points
fred1217 12/30/09 - 11:02 am
0
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justthefacts, if we want to

justthefacts, if we want to get rid of a white male to open his job for another, we normally line them up a higher paying job elsewhere. You know how it works. Maybe even a job for his wife too! We always fire minorities for coming in late one day or in this case, buying office supplies.

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 11:05 am
0
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Why didn't HR thoroughly

Why didn't HR thoroughly check with her past employers? Were they even sure of her credentials? That is one thing wrong with Augusta government. They never have their ducks in a row. They always wait until there is a crisis to discover someone is not supposed to be employed. Enough!

Mr. Thackeray
942
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Mr. Thackeray 12/30/09 - 11:08 am
0
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The problem lies higher than

The problem lies higher than Johnson. No background check? She must have had a friend in high places that shielded here from scrutiny or HR is simply incompetent.

justus4
103
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justus4 12/30/09 - 11:08 am
0
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If this woman is sooo bad,
Unpublished

If this woman is sooo bad, why is her immediate supervisor not being held to account? If she has cost the city soooo much money, why isn't the financial director held to account? If she was sooooooo dangerous to national security, where is the HR individual who signed off? The City Administer is ALWAYS the Captian. How is he able to NOT be responsible for ANYTHING, but is authorized control over EVERYTHING? The answer: his race. It keeps his job secure when everyone around him is scapegoated, he recieves no blame. Why? Race. His failures in the T. Smith case demonstrates poor manger skills and the inability to properly document actions. Did he get blamed? Why? Race. For those of us who have suffered in such work place environments, whats happening here is classic, but when the dust settles, the city may have another attorney, but its pockets will be a lot lighter.

justthefacts
22198
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justthefacts 12/30/09 - 11:08 am
0
0
fred, a little bit of

fred, a little bit of generalizing there, isn't it? Sorry, but if you want a response or dialog you'll have to post something a little less silly.

noone
4
Points
noone 12/30/09 - 11:12 am
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0
Fred i dont think the office

Fred i dont think the office supplies are the issue. The DECORATIONS,COFFEE CAKE, CANDY, SODA, JUICE, TWO 175 DOLLAR COFFEE MAKERS. There is nothing wrong with asking employees to bring those things. All of the things i mentoned are LUXURIES NOT NEEDED to run an office. I am manager of a lumber mill and if i had spent ANY MONEY on ANY of those things corporate would fire me so fast my head would spin.

Onthebeach
0
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Onthebeach 12/30/09 - 11:14 am
0
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First thing that RC should do

First thing that RC should do is to eliminate all credit cards until some type of process or accountability is established.....In most companies, the employee (no matter what race or level) would be suspended until an investigation was completed.

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 12/30/09 - 11:14 am
0
0
I can't help but wonder if

I can't help but wonder if Chiquita came here precisely she saw the vulnerabilities in our commission here and thought she could work them to her advantage. She doesn't seem the least bit phased by all this. Business as usual for her. How can someone like her get a job when so many people are looking for work?

noone
4
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noone 12/30/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
acording to justus and fred

acording to justus and fred juice and candy are necessities in an office.

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