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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gargoyle
18553
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gargoyle 12/30/09 - 05:45 pm
0
0
A question .... Why would a

A question .... Why would a state agency move a person out of a plum position with a matter that could have been taken care of internally ? Her references must be impeccable to be able to be considered to lead without experience ....

southernguy08
499
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southernguy08 12/30/09 - 05:47 pm
0
0
Good luck with that TRUKIN.
Unpublished

Good luck with that TRUKIN. Just look at Obama's cabinet.

INDEPENDENT1
0
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INDEPENDENT1 12/30/09 - 05:47 pm
0
0
Hire a banana you get a

Hire a banana you get a banana. Looks as if this one just might get peeled!

Fiat_Lux
15902
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Fiat_Lux 12/30/09 - 06:01 pm
0
0
The best way to get rid of

The best way to get rid of this woman is to cut her funds until she feels too pinched to hang around. Just make things unpleasant enough-- in completely legitimate, cost-saving, budget-minded and fiscally responsible ways-- so that she leaves of her own accord for greener pastures. Give her great letters of recommendation and not a peep about what a money-bleeding boob she is, so that someone else will find her attractive. Then try to foist her off on the first unawares PC HR guppy that shows any interest in her.

tdp
0
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tdp 12/30/09 - 06:02 pm
0
0
Crackerjack......OMG! You are

Crackerjack......OMG! You are right! This certainly causes me to look at my dogs in a new light now. I'm not sure I can allow a democrat to live under my roof -- this is a staunchly conservative household! Hmmmm..What to do, what to do.

coolchic
0
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coolchic 12/30/09 - 06:17 pm
0
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Fiat, I think she is already

Fiat, I think she is already on her way out the door. I don't think we need to put the ball in her court to call the shots of when she is ready to call it quits. If she doesn't resign this week, fire her. How long do you pay an attorney to represent you when he/she does not have the qualifications to adequately represent you? She seems to be confident, but not competent.

crackerjack
150
Points
crackerjack 12/30/09 - 06:30 pm
0
0
Quid Pro Quo, one doesn't

Quid Pro Quo, one doesn't have to complete the proper Employment process, when you are of a certain ethnicity or gender.

crackerjack
150
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crackerjack 12/30/09 - 06:32 pm
0
0
tdp yep I have a Yorkie

tdp yep I have a Yorkie democrat...

crackerjack
150
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crackerjack 12/30/09 - 06:58 pm
0
0
Wow, my 3:36 was removed. I

Wow, my 3:36 was removed. I didn't say any bad words. I just insinuated that maybe certain hiring requirements were overlooked for one reason or another. Probably another!

ron_rlw
1
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ron_rlw 12/30/09 - 07:05 pm
0
0
Jack ... while your statement

Jack ... while your statement was techincally correct ... if I remember your post ... you aren't allow to say it.

happythoughts
25
Points
happythoughts 12/30/09 - 07:38 pm
0
0
noone, There is absolutely

noone, There is absolutely nothing wrong with improving the office environment. She spent the money wisely, you get what you pay for. If you want a piece of crap you buy a piece of crap. She shared the goods, everything is pleasing to the eye and the air is wonderful, a great place to work. It's a moral lifter for those around the office. Good Job!

jbartley
573
Points
jbartley 12/30/09 - 08:46 pm
0
0
This woman should be fired at

This woman should be fired at the first commission meeting in 2010!

crackerjack
150
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crackerjack 12/30/09 - 08:51 pm
0
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oh ok ron rlw, thanks I'm

oh ok ron rlw, thanks I'm still trying to figure out how to say something, without saying it. lol

johnsdad
1
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johnsdad 12/30/09 - 09:03 pm
0
0
Yeah, she wasn't even an

Yeah, she wasn't even an affrirmative action hire--she was an under the table hire/ When the bannah goes, maybe they will send Fred packing also!

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 12/30/09 - 09:08 pm
0
0
She needs to resign. All her

She needs to resign. All her future employer has to do is google her name and boy will they get an eye full!!! Maybe she needs to find another line of work.

Dixieman
15980
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Dixieman 12/30/09 - 09:31 pm
0
0
Bye-bye, Chiquita.

Bye-bye, Chiquita.

Pu239
284
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Pu239 12/30/09 - 09:48 pm
0
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Hey NotReally.......Overripe
Unpublished

Hey NotReally.......Overripe Bananas @ IGA..........Buy one get one free!

sassygirl12
1
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sassygirl12 12/30/09 - 09:56 pm
0
0
well the only fair thing to

well the only fair thing to do is to make this thief pay all this money back. all that money she made a year and still had to rob the system. i guess now she will be standing in the unemployment line along with everyone else down there. fun while it lasted you dummy..had a great job, and now hopefully a honest person will now take it over. you were nothing put a lying no good for nothing thief that deserves to be jobless

DEVGRU
0
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DEVGRU 12/30/09 - 10:26 pm
0
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When she was previously

When she was previously terminated, more than likely, someone in Atlanta did her a favor and got her her job here. It's called politics.

gargoyle
18553
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gargoyle 12/30/09 - 10:52 pm
0
0
DEVGRU Its called politics'

DEVGRU Its called politics' and with her references she will be working elsewhere before the ink dries on the wrongful termination- Hostile work environment lawsuit .... hopefully the Commission has ducks in a row and a good lawyer ....

enana031
0
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enana031 12/30/09 - 11:06 pm
0
0
Couldn't agree with you more

Couldn't agree with you more apex24. Both of them should get the boot with Fred leading the pack. Enough of placing the tax burden on the residents of Richmond County when our money is spent so carelessly. Sounds like this chick knew somebody!!!

bushwhacker
39
Points
bushwhacker 12/30/09 - 11:21 pm
0
0
yall need to quit ganging up

yall need to quit ganging up on her. she's a republican in good standing in the csra..

Bear - Lillian Smith
65
Points
Bear - Lillian Smith 12/30/09 - 11:36 pm
0
0
imjustsayin....it's clear she

imjustsayin....it's clear she had no accountability or she wouldn't have been able to make such foolish purchases. I hold Fred Russel "far" more accountable for" her" actions than I do her. Fiscal responsibility "and" accountability to the governing authority for taxpayers dollars is what he's paid to do. I'm certainly not giving her a pass by any means, but she should have already been terminated. The fact that she is still a bone of contention is a joke, but ultimately the buck stops with Fred Russell. When judging the performance of government employees, a reasonable person would ask the following; "Would this person's actions be any different if the business they were managing belonged to them and the deficit came out of their bottom line"? I suggest it would be dramatically different. Given the current economic conditions, most business owners I deal with on a daily basis are watching ever dime going in and out of their business, right down to the copier paper. So the question becomes "why would the governing authority allow continued mismanagement? NOW, we are right back to where we ALL know the real problem is....*&#% rolls down hill, BUT!!, it starts at the top!!

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/31/09 - 12:15 am
0
0
Can we get rid of her and the

Can we get rid of her and the do-nothing yes-man Fred Russell??

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 12/31/09 - 12:45 am
0
0
Justus, why do you support

Justus, why do you support someone just because they are black? Why not instead, aruge properly that ANYONE abusing our tax money needs to be removed and if you know of others, go after them as well. Fred deserves to go for this as well (as many white people are saying) for lack of oversight and basically not really caring about what is going on since it is just tax money and they can get more by raising taxes or increasing the sales tax by 18%. As for firing this lady, she needs to go now and it shouldn't cost the taxpayers a penny. If the article is correct, she inappropriately spent $42,000.00 without approval form the commission on lawyers in Atlanta. She made purchases against the policies and procedures of the county using a county credit card. Either of the aforementioned is grounds for immediate dismissal and may be criminal. We also need to know if she lied on her job application, if so, this is also grounds for termination and since it is a govt. job could also be criminal. We need to CLEAN UP all of our Govt., local and otherwise and this is one type of individual we absolutely do not need. To stand up for her because she is a minority is ignorance.

Harrisburgsurvivor
2
Points
Harrisburgsurvivor 12/31/09 - 12:59 am
0
0
Where does Chiquita live?

Where does Chiquita live?

Harrisburgsurvivor
2
Points
Harrisburgsurvivor 12/31/09 - 01:00 am
0
0
Justus, She is a

Justus, She is a mulatto....not black.

Harrisburgsurvivor
2
Points
Harrisburgsurvivor 12/31/09 - 01:03 am
0
0
I wonder if there are crack

I wonder if there are crack houses in Justus and Chiquitas' neighborhoods ?

goldie53
46
Points
goldie53 12/31/09 - 02:11 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? Posted by FallingLeaves on Wed Dec 30, 2009 10:14 AM
I agree wholeheartly with this statement. We are spending so much of Richmond Cty taxpayers monies for these lawsuits. Augusta commissioners and governement wake up you are killing this city. It is time for the citizens of Augusta to read, go to the meetings and learn what is going on with your tax monies. Augusta could be a wonderful place to live if the politics can be cleaned up in this cesspool of government waste. Again, this isn't about race of a name this is about green (money) l like making it and I love investing and keeping some of it. I am taxed to death with the houses I owned in this city. Give me a break!! Stop letting slicksters know how stupid our city government is here in Augusta. They read about us in the newspapers and say wow " I go there and get a quick 100K with a lawsuit -they are country and

goldie53
46
Points
goldie53 12/31/09 - 02:16 am
0
0
and ignorant in that city."

and ignorant in that city." When will you learn? I think we need to clean house at the Marble Palace. Anyone with HR experience know how to get the right answers when doing a background check. Something is very fishy there. Wake up Deke. Get rid of the small mentalities running the offices in the Marble Palace. Augusta is growing and the city needs intelligent and not on the job training new hires.

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