OUR OPINION: Mayors explanation leaves lingering questions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

In interviewing Mayor Cecil Williamson about having been provided insurance for two years, two things became clear: 1) state authorities charged with investigating the matter are satisfied with its resolution, 2) gaping holes in how city leaders oversee their expenditures exist.

The Alabama Ethics Commission provided Williamson and the city with a letter that said her repayment of funds was sufficient to clear the matter. They warned her about what happened, and the matter appears to be settled. That the city brought it to the attention of the local district attorney and the state most likely played a critical role in the mayor and city getting off with just a slap on the hand.

What is most disturbing, however, is that the city allowed this to go on for more than two years. It took the eyes of an independent auditor to discover the mispayment.

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As background, the mayor began receiving insurance through the city when she was sworn in on Oct. 4, 2004. The city paid for her premiums, which they should not have done because the office of mayor is technically a part-time position.

First, the mayor knew she was receiving the insurance. If it was an honest mistake in the beginning, surely somewhere in the first two years of her term she learned that the city&8217;s personnel rules allow for only full-time employees to receive free insurance.

Second, the fault does not fall just at the mayor&8217;s feet. It is the responsibility of the city council as a whole to approve all expenditures. Each month, they review and approve invoices and payments. Each time a check is cut, the mayor&8217;s signature is attached to it.

If our city leaders &8212; both the council and the mayor &8212; are not aware of at the very least their payroll expenditures, then they are failing in their duty to oversee public funds.

Despite requests, city officials have not released the amount the mayor had to pay back for the insurance. We suspect a Freedom of Information request will reveal that amount. After all, it is in the public&8217;s best interest to know.

In the end, we believe this matter was exactly what the mayor has said it was &8212; an honest mistake.

Nonetheless, our city leaders must be more diligent in monitoring expenses.