ANOTHER COVER-UP: CITY MANAGER HIDES FACTS BY WITHHOLDING PUBLIC RECORDS
By Kevin Hogencamp
An Albany airport is the target of a closely kept police investigation for cashing in on scrap metal left behind from a recently completed airfield lighting and signage project.
In an interview Tuesday with The Albany Journal, Operations Manager Sean Reddish says he did not realize he was doing anything wrong when he made 11 trips in July from Southwest Georgia Regional Airport to a recycling center in a city vehicle, pocketing about $1,100.
That’s because, he said, the contractor gave him the scrap metal – a claim the contractor supports. Additionally, Reddish says that while working off the clock at the airport, he disassembled the old signage, saving the airport thousands of dollars by salvaging lights and circuit boards that were replaced with new signage by TCA Electrical Contractors of Omega, Ga.
Albany police also are attempting to determine whether Yvette Aehle, the airport director, committed a crime or violated city policy by giving Reddish permission to profit from scrap materials, a claim levied by a former airport worker that Aehle and Reddish steadfastly deny.
“I was told last week that it’s been reported that you are selling scrap materials, and I said, ‘Yes, I have been,’” Reddish said. “Obviously, there’s a gray area and the city policy was violated. I expect to take some licks and keep moving. But I have not stolen anything …
“The contractor gave me stuff that belonged to him. It was going to be hauled off and dumped. It was the common sense thing to do.”
In a letter to the city sent because of the theft investigation, TCA’s Marty Bennett said he gave Reddish the old signs because transporting and salvaging them wouldn’t have been troublesome.
“The signs became TCA’s property upon removal from their base,” Bennett said. “I, as acting agent of TCA, personally gave them to Sean Reddish to dispose of as he sees fit. At no time, that I am aware of, did Sean Reddish steal or sell for personal gain any airport property. When he sold the aluminum from those signs, it was his to sell, not the airport’s.
Still, Albany detectives are attempting to determine whether Reddish’s actions were criminal violations. An Albany law, meanwhile, requires employees who receive gifts to report the gifts to the city Board of Ethics or its designee and to “have the gift added to the inventory of property of the city.” Violating the ethics law is punishable by disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Meanwhile, recently fired airport employee David Bradford said Tuesday in an interview with the Journal that Aehle told Reddish, Bradford and others that they were welcome to profit from selling the airport’s scrap metal at an Albany recycling center. Aehle and Reddish say that Bradford is mistaken, but that Aehle did give permission to the employees to cash in on a small amount of metal that had been at the airport for years – “enough for maybe an employee pizza party,” Aehle said.
Aehle and Reddish said that Reddish did not take Aehle up on her offer, however, and that Bradford had no knowledge of the metal TCA left behind because Bradford was fired in March.
Bradford’s complaints to city officials spawned the probe. Meanwhile, Bradford has filed a federal discrimination and hostile-workplace complaint against Reddish and the city.
Reddish says that he readily identified himself at the recycling center as an airport worker, and was wearing his work uniform, which signifies that he didn’t take the scrap metal under a shroud of city. He says that if he is required to do so, he will pay the city the money he made from the scrap metal sales. An airport employee since last fall, Reddish says he has not been shown documentation of a law or policy that he has broken.
Aehle says that she will require Reddish to give the city the money he was paid by the recycling center and that he will also be disciplined following the police investigation. But she, too, says she feels that Reddish is “guilty of poor judgment, but not a crime.”
Meanwhile, Lott and Albany police refused to answer the Journal’s questions regarding the probe on Tuesday and denied the Journal access to any public records associated with the case, including Reddish’s statement to police. Lott’s decision to withhold public records means that he is committing a crime – a violation of Georgia’s open records act — to cover up details of an alleged crime.
Despite being the subject of a public theft probe, Reddish remains on the job with full security clearance. Recently at the airport, the facility’s deputy director was immediately suspended from his duties upon being arrested and charged with stealing clothes from an Albany retailer. He was later fired.