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.
Sandy Hodson
Database Reporter
E-mail | 706-823-3226

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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SeeYa
13
Points
SeeYa 12/30/09 - 02:09 pm
0
0
Ms. Johnson has got to go!

Ms. Johnson has got to go! She is a leech, IMHO. The smell of rotten bananas is floating around Augusta-Richmond County.

Notreally
4
Points
Notreally 12/30/09 - 02:16 pm
0
0
Joseph A Banks has a suit

Joseph A Banks has a suit sale on today and tomorrow, buy 1 get 2 free...

coolchic
0
Points
coolchic 12/30/09 - 02:24 pm
0
0
I imagine there is more to

I imagine there is more to all of this. Follow the money!
Chiquita, do what's best for yourself and all of RC tax payers and resign. You have lost any respect or credibility you may have had left.

naturehazard
0
Points
naturehazard 12/30/09 - 02:25 pm
0
0
Why is her name such a big

Why is her name such a big issue. Who cares what her name is. Everybody name is not Susie and Ashley. God did not intend for everybody to be the same. Including when deciding on names.

Brad Owens
5223
Points
Brad Owens 12/30/09 - 02:28 pm
0
0
All, she is a goner. Take my

All, she is a goner. Take my word for it, she will resign.

Does_it_really_matter
2
Points
Does_it_really_matter 12/30/09 - 02:30 pm
0
0
This one is for you Nature:

This one is for you Nature: Cesspool!

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/30/09 - 02:34 pm
0
0
Fred Russell needs to go as

Fred Russell needs to go as well. It seems that inhouse employee evaluations are either not being done or are being done with a "white wash" brush. Every employee should be evaluated yearly and results put into a file. If the poor performance track record is there, you can fire with no fear. With the bannana lady, I don't think even black commissioners will have much inclination to protect her. The stench is just too strong.
Got to love the predictability of of Justanass. Never seen an issue he couldn't find a "picking on a black" moniker to put on it

coolchic
0
Points
coolchic 12/30/09 - 02:54 pm
0
0
Brad, it would be best for

Brad, it would be best for all if Chiquita would resign. I just wonder if she is too arrogant to admit any wrong-doing on her part. Unless - there is more evidence pending and she doesn't want this revealed. Hmmmm

reesiecup
0
Points
reesiecup 12/30/09 - 03:01 pm
0
0
Im sure this one will cost

Im sure this one will cost the city a ton, she will sue and they will settle, just like in the past and the taxayers will pay for her incompetence for years to come.

ron_rlw
1
Points
ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 03:06 pm
0
0
I haven't seen a clear

I haven't seen a clear violation of the law yet ... without that she surely will sue, just like all the others.

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/30/09 - 03:16 pm
0
0
ron rlw.......you don't need

ron rlw.......you don't need for an employee to commit a "clear violation of the law" to terminate them. There are a host of cirumcumstances for which an employee can be fired, incompetence is just one of many. The conditions for firing employees in government are no different than those in private business,excepting the commissioners who choose to politicize the firing or tag it as racist. Would she sue? Yeah, probably so, the lawsuit thing has certainly worked against the city for quite sometime. The city needs to get come backbone up and let these ex-employee lawsuits go to trial and let the cards fall where they may.

RIPAmerica
0
Points
RIPAmerica 12/30/09 - 03:22 pm
0
0
Sam: See my GOOD manager

Sam: See my GOOD manager post. The employee files are all rose colored. Proper documentation procedures are not followed. Exposure to lawsuit is guaranteed. The managers who failed should be fired for incompetence too. This would lessen the exposure of the RC taxpayer by lessening the prospects of any racial or gender wrongful termination suit. If they fire her, without firing those who did not do the research before hiring her, I'd like to represent her case because it'd be too easy.

dani
13
Points
dani 12/30/09 - 03:23 pm
0
0
An embarrassment-again. Where

An embarrassment-again. Where does it end?

ron_rlw
1
Points
ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 03:31 pm
0
0
Yosemit ... yes the

Yosemit ... yes the government can fire someone, however the paperwork showing bad invaluations has to be inplace ... Augusta is not known for have the necessary documenation.

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/30/09 - 03:44 pm
0
0
I agree that the employee

I agree that the employee evaluations are not handled properly I think Fred Russell is a mediocre manager at best. He needs to grow some or he needs to go too. The man runs a very loose ship.

coolchic
0
Points
coolchic 12/30/09 - 04:01 pm
0
0
There certainly is enough

There certainly is enough evidence of Chiquita's incompetence. Chiquita should simply resign; don't think she will want the public to be privy to even more evidence of incompetence and scrutiny if this matter were to be taken to court. There has to be more to all of this. How did she get this job in the first place? She clearly was not qualified. There is generally a rule of thumb to Follow the $$$$$.

ron_rlw
1
Points
ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 04:02 pm
0
0
Yosemit ... I think it is

Yosemit ... I think it is bigger than Fred Russell, we've had this problem for years. No one wants to give someone else a bad evaluation. Gathering the facts afterward isn't as good, because you leave her with the excuse that if she had just know what was expected ... then things would have been different. Maybe they have the paperwork inplace ... it could happen.

Brad Owens
5223
Points
Brad Owens 12/30/09 - 04:07 pm
0
0
coolchic, she will resign.

coolchic, she will resign.

jack
12
Points
jack 12/30/09 - 04:14 pm
0
0
Chiquita the banana should

Chiquita the banana should have never been hired in the first place. Her predecessor, who was fired, was only doing his job (and the reason he was fired). Inability to even keep a federal court date/time, wanting to restrict the press (violation of second amendment), contracting to out of city lawyers (buddies in Atlanta) when her department was established to conduct legal matters for the city/county. It is long past time for Johnson to be gone.

ron_rlw
1
Points
ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 04:18 pm
0
0
Brad ... I'll take your word

Brad ... I'll take your word on that since you are more likely to have some inside information. But so far nothing has been made public that would give us any confindence that this inicident will be any different than before.

jack
12
Points
jack 12/30/09 - 04:24 pm
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...
Posted by cparker on Wed Dec 30, 2009 8:31 AM....When frivolous spending by individual Congressmen/women make the news, why not local government? As for Justass4's usual blatherings, that ole race card is worn slap out. Any public empolyee's records are open to the public/press (AWM) excluding their social security number and address, Justass.

crackerjack
163
Points
crackerjack 12/30/09 - 04:25 pm
0
0
Chiquita aside, I would like

Chiquita aside, I would like to know why every time stuff likes this happens, the people responsible are either retired, live somewhere else now, can't be reached, won't return calls, or hiding under their desk. Just like the Oreobama administration, let's see who we can find to blame this on. I smell sulphur!

CarlA
114
Points
CarlA 12/30/09 - 04:27 pm
0
0
Dear Chiquita, It looks like

Dear Chiquita, It looks like your attempts to squash the media with the ridiculous hurdles to get open records requests, and your absurd attempt to limit the media in Commission meetings really backfired! But I guess hindsight is 20/20. I think it's safe to say we can stick a fork in you, because your DONE! Here's some advice for you in your next career that my grandfather shared with me many years ago. Don't pick a fight with someone that buys ink by the barrell and paper by the truckload!

crackerjack
163
Points
crackerjack 12/30/09 - 04:32 pm
0
0
My dog sleeps about 20 hours

My dog sleeps about 20 hours a day. She has her food prepared for her. She can eat whenever she wants, 24/7/365. Her meals are provided at no cost to her. She visits the Dr. once a year for her checkup, and again during the year if any medical needs arise. For this she pays nothing, and nothing is required of her.

She lives in a nice neighborhood in a house that is much larger than she needs, but she is not required to do any upkeep. If she makes a mess, someone else cleans it up. She has her choice of luxurious places to sleep. She receives these accommodations absolutely free. She is living like a queen, and has absolutely no expenses whatsoever.

All of her costs are picked up by others who go out and earn a living every day. I was thinking about all this, and suddenly it hit me like a brick in the head...

OH NO! My dog is a Democrat!

crackerjack
163
Points
crackerjack 12/30/09 - 04:36 pm
0
0
Hatney, all I want to know

Hatney, all I want to know is.....was it good?

CarlA
114
Points
CarlA 12/30/09 - 04:41 pm
0
0
With regard to the lack of

With regard to the lack of information obtained regarding her background prior to being hired, I always say if it doesn't make sense to you then you don't know the "whole" story!

disssman
6
Points
disssman 12/30/09 - 04:50 pm
0
0
The real question is why

The real question is why would Fred have to do anything about this woman. First, who hired her? It sure wasn't Fred. Second, why is anyone but the commissioner who hired her having anything to do with her evaluation? Bottom line is, he that hires should evaluate and do all firing or get out of the way so someone can run the DA## city. But I am not surprised we hired a person with slick hands in this case.

coolchic
0
Points
coolchic 12/30/09 - 04:57 pm
0
0
okay Brad. You seem to have

okay Brad. You seem to have some inside information to say this with such confidence. I do believe that her resigning would be best for all - even her.

TrukinRanger
1774
Points
TrukinRanger 12/30/09 - 05:21 pm
0
0
Ok.. read enough... Ms.
Unpublished

Ok.. read enough... Ms. Cheetah didn't necessarily break a law.. however, she did misuse a credit card for purchases that the credit card was NOT intended. The credit card was supposed to be used for official TRAVEL expenses. Ms. Cheketeesha should be fired (for many things, not just this) and human resources should be investigated. We need to quit hiring people just because of their race or sex and actually hire people that are QUALIFIED and have EXPERIENCE that can be verified!!!!

REDRIDER
134
Points
REDRIDER 12/30/09 - 05:22 pm
0
0
Thank God I live in SC The

Thank God I live in SC The Governor of SC Covered his Butt better than this.

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