The Never-ending Docket Debacle

City Council voted down the city's claims and payroll dockets, which list city payments to companies and individuals, on a 2-3-1 vote Monday, though the council later voted again and approved the dockets.

Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon pointed to missing details in services rendered by temp agencies. The docket listed service descriptions such as "office supplies" or "copier rental" for most company disbursements. For other companies such as Willstaff Crystal Inc. and Douglas Inc., the docket provided no details at all, describing services simply as "Temp. Services."

Council members said other red flags were disbursements such as an $800 payment to Code Services Manager Joe Lewis, who is already a salaried employee financed through payroll. Lewis said the $800 was reimbursement for health insurance costs that the city had neglected to pay in 2006.

Barrett-Simon said she would vote for the docket, but only because voting against it would harm more trusted vendors.

"I've read through the claims docket, and there are all these glaring things that just scare me, things that I'm going to be personally responsible for, but I also see all our vendors who obviously won't be paid if we don't vote it," Barrett-Simon said.

Crisler said Barrett-Simon's acquiescence startled him.

"You're the only council member sitting up that has actually had to pay money because of a claims docket," Crisler said, referring to civil litigation from 1997 that required council members to pay back improperly disbursed funds, "yet you're sitting here on my left telling me that you're ready to vote for this thing? That concerns me."

Crisler relented while expressing deep misgivings, joining other council members in approving the docket in a 6-0 vote, with Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes absent.

Council President Ben Allen said he feared approving the docket because of concerns over house demolitions. Allen said that he'd heard from a source inside the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality that a vendor in charge of a house demolition had not followed proper procedures. Allen also heard that one vendor may have even torn down the wrong house.

"If we end up voting on something that turns out to be fraud, we could go to jail," Allen said. He urged the Melton administration to address his concerns at an upcoming special meeting.


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