Law department bill raises ire

  • Follow Metro

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
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
johnsdad
1
Points
johnsdad 12/30/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
Why do I not doubt it is not

Why do I not doubt it is not newsworthy to you parker??? Would it be because she is black?

Riverman1
83732
Points
Riverman1 12/30/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
"Great job Sandy and Johnny

"Great job Sandy and Johnny in researching this stuff, I am proud!!
Posted by scott-hudson on Wed Dec 30, 2009 2:53 AM"......I bet they are proud of you too, Scotty. That was so condescendillicious.

fred1217
4
Points
fred1217 12/30/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
Justthefacts, I suggest you

Justthefacts, I suggest you re-read your 9:57am post. I was only responding to the racist, sexist, age discriminating generalized hiring tips that you gave. I really could care less about you responding if those are your views, but I did want people to know how hiring and firing usually happens versus what you indicated. What EEOC guidelines are you using? I hope you're running a "Mom and Pop" and don't have any real hiring authority.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 11:16 am
0
0
Fred1217, baloney! You know

Fred1217, baloney! You know a lot of folks both black and white work it, and work it well. Some folks are very inventive on how NOT to do any work on the job. Many people, no matter their ethnicity, hire who they know. C'mon. Get the chip off of your shoulder and start thinking with your mind. There are plenty of lazy scammers from all races out there and you know it. Heck the white guy's wife may be lazy, come in late or buy too many office supplies too. And, as a result, no one in the office respects her because she's a bottom feeder. My point is, let's place the label where it belongs, no matter the ethnicity. And right now we are referring to Ms. Johnson's job performance.

apex24
0
Points
apex24 12/30/09 - 11:17 am
0
0
Poor, poor Justus!!!!!!

Poor, poor Justus!!!!!!

johnsdad
1
Points
johnsdad 12/30/09 - 11:18 am
0
0
Does Hatney ring a bell?

Does Hatney ring a bell?

johnsdad
1
Points
johnsdad 12/30/09 - 11:19 am
0
0
Did I read correctly where it

Did I read correctly where it said Sams reviews all purchases?

apex24
0
Points
apex24 12/30/09 - 11:20 am
0
0
Chukita came here because

Chukita came here because Marion Williams had the grandiose idea of making Augusta the second "Chocolate City".

southernguy08
499
Points
southernguy08 12/30/09 - 11:21 am
0
0
I'll hand it to you JUSTUS,
Unpublished

I'll hand it to you JUSTUS, your daily, idiotic race rants sure as Hell are consistent!

tdp
0
Points
tdp 12/30/09 - 11:24 am
0
0
I'm a Chiquita banana and I'm

I'm a Chiquita banana and I'm here to say, I screw the taxpayers everyday! Sorry, I couldn't resist!

tstoney
0
Points
tstoney 12/30/09 - 11:25 am
0
0
Mercy me!! More money down

Mercy me!! More money down the drain. Typical Augusta politics. LOL. Wonder how much she will sue for when she gets terminated. Ahem, assuming she GETS terminated.

justthefacts
21763
Points
justthefacts 12/30/09 - 11:25 am
0
0
fred, unfortunately, you

fred, unfortunately, you missed the cynicism. I shouldn't ever try to respond to justus's ridiculous remarks.

fred1217
4
Points
fred1217 12/30/09 - 11:25 am
0
0
JohnQPublic, I would not

JohnQPublic, I would not discriminate, I was only responding to justthefacts' 9:57am post. I do agree with you that all races "work the system". Maybe you should read his hiring guidelines that I was responding too. I was also speaking in general in response and being sarcastic.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 11:27 am
0
0
fred oh ok cool

fred oh ok cool

imjustsayin
0
Points
imjustsayin 12/30/09 - 11:48 am
0
0
Chiquita may have done wrong

Chiquita may have done wrong but so has many others in the county. Joyce Downs with the recreation department is her role model. Someone needs to investigate recreation spending. I see they left them out. If they investigate Joyce spending and don't find suspicious activity or misuse I will eat Section A of today's newspaper!

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 11:52 am
0
0
Last time I checked, my

Last time I checked, my employer does NOT provide DECORATIONS,COFFEE CAKE, CANDY, SODA, JUICE, TWO 175 DOLLAR COFFEE MAKERS. That's called pay out of your own pocket. The days of employers picking up the tab for frivilous purchases are gone. She needs to reimburse the city for all of the above. Who hired this chick?

Bear - Lillian Smith
65
Points
Bear - Lillian Smith 12/30/09 - 11:56 am
0
0
There are numerous heads that

There are numerous heads that should roll on this one. Fred???....have you bumped your little head?!!!! You're not concerned about "what" she spent the money on, just how much it was? If you don't see that as relevant, then you are equally as irresponsible as she is and you need to be out the door with her AND the person(s) who failed in due diligence during the process of considering her for employment. In this era of electronic information readily available to any idiot with a computer, it's inexcusable that this woman made it past the initial background check.
The answer to this problem could be resolved by any number of 5th graders at "any" school within 5 counties!!
BTW...if RC employees are given cc's with "no" checks and balances on the items they purchase, please let me know where to apply!

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 12:01 pm
0
0
Agreed Bear-Lillian Smith.

Agreed Bear-Lillian Smith. Perhaps we should take a look at Fred Russell's purchases if he is not concerned about what Johnson purchased! It is taxpayer money and therefore, all of the details are relevant! The kinds of items purchased show a profile of Ms. Johnson's work ethic!

HollyHoly
0
Points
HollyHoly 12/30/09 - 12:02 pm
0
0
She don't even look nice.

She don't even look nice.

HollyHoly
0
Points
HollyHoly 12/30/09 - 12:05 pm
0
0
10:24 am!! I am rolling on

10:24 am!! I am rolling on the floor lmaool!!! Too funny tdp!!!

imjustsayin
0
Points
imjustsayin 12/30/09 - 12:08 pm
0
0
Bear-Lillian Smith and

Bear-Lillian Smith and JohnQPublic I am here to tell you that there is no procedure in place to check what is being purchased with those credit cards. If you make it up high enough in the rankings and are fortunate to get your has on a card, you have it made!

thewiz0oz
9
Points
thewiz0oz 12/30/09 - 12:14 pm
0
0
The consolidation bill gave

The consolidation bill gave the Commissioners direct management responsibilities over City Department Heads -- In this case J.R. Hatney -- when you place part-time non-professionals in positions of responsibility you always get the type results where incompetence rules -- until we FIX that consolidation bill we will get more of the same -- discipline action should be taken against all responsible when taxpayers resources are abused.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 12:18 pm
0
0
What wiz???? Say it isn't

What wiz???? Say it isn't so!! HR should be in charge of all employees not commissioners. That needs to be changed!!

Brad Owens
4423
Points
Brad Owens 12/30/09 - 12:18 pm
0
0
OutinSpace, there will be

OutinSpace, there will be more. This is bad but when you compare budgets for Steve's firm and hers you see that this was a really bad idea. We don't need a 'legal department' we need professional legal advice. Fire this zero and hire Steve back.

thereishope
1
Points
thereishope 12/30/09 - 12:21 pm
0
0
I wonder in which kitchens

I wonder in which kitchens the coffee makers ended up!!!! No wonder Sam's Sales are up! I can't believe she was hired in the first place!

ron_rlw
1
Points
ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 12:24 pm
0
0
It's unclear to me whether

It's unclear to me whether she did anything wrong or not with the SAM's card. What was her budget for this type of items would be question and possibly was anything for personal use? However, overshooting the budget by better than 300% for consulting fees for the Airport bring her ability to follow instruction into question and show a lack of respect for the Tax Payers of Richmond County ... she should have at least brought this up to the commissioners so they could make a decision on increasing the budgit or not.

KingJames
10
Points
KingJames 12/30/09 - 12:24 pm
0
0
Ms. Johnson has certainly

Ms. Johnson has certainly maximized the possibilities of her city credit card. I can somewhat understand wanting a nice workplace, but most people bring in their own items to decorate their office or personal space. Few companies nowadays pay for drinks, snacks, and decorations for employees. And, they certainly don't hire contractors to do work their employees should be capable of performing. Ms. Johnson has done those things and needs to be held accountable. Anyone associated with approving her expenses should also be held accountable. Those of you who are commenting on race should give it a rest. It seems like the commissioners are going to take some sort of action and terminate Ms. Johnson. Even if she sues the city, at the rate she's going it will probably be cheaper than keeping her and doing nothing while she spends excessive amounts of money.

imjustsayin
0
Points
imjustsayin 12/30/09 - 12:38 pm
0
0
Fred Russell or Geri Sams

Fred Russell or Geri Sams should be held accountable for Ms. Johnsons astions as well. Any purchase over $500 must be sent to Bid. That means she she make one big purchase that included these things, she made several! One me have slipped by you but she had to make at least 11 different purchases. Way to be on your job City Administrator and Procurement Department Director! The city has bright future with department heads like these.

RIPAmerica
0
Points
RIPAmerica 12/30/09 - 12:51 pm
0
0
KJ: Perfect. Thanks.

KJ: Perfect. Thanks.

gargoyle
16948
Points
gargoyle 12/30/09 - 01:24 pm
0
0
Ms. Johnson credentials are

Ms. Johnson credentials are impressive and may have put her on the fast track to failure ... The lack of job tenure and supervisory experience should have given pause before offering a department head position ... If checks and balances were used to screen candidates for potential employment with city instead of blind faith and favors competent employees would be the rule instead of the exception.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Former commissioner's case remains under review

While former Augusta commissioner Donnie Smith's statements to Georgia State Patrol investigators likely can't be used against him, the state Office of the Inspector General continues to conduct ...
Search Augusta jobs