By Kevin Hogencamp
Albany City Manager Alfred Lott allowed a city employee who committed fraud on the city’s behalf to quietly resign rather than to be fired or prosecuted, and then hid the matter from police and the federal agency that was defrauded, public records show.
City Attorney Nathan Davis advised Lott in April that Geraldine Fletcher’s actions were crimes, likely felonies punishable by a prison term. Still, Fletcher was allowed to return to work after the crimes were discovered before deciding to adhere to the city administration’s request to resign, records show.
Records show that Fletcher’s supervisors discovered during a review of her files that Fletcher forged signatures of residents who received federal funds to pay for making their homes more energy efficient. The city receives more than $50,000 in U.S. Department of Energy funds annually in a program administered federally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fletcher’s salary was paid largely with those funds; she was a longtime city employee.
Public records reviewed by The Albany Journal indicate the matter has not been reported to police or the federal government – the victim of Fletcher’s alleged transgressions. The treatment given by Lott to Fletcher this spring is in contrast to that of airport maintenance supervisor Sean Reddish, who was arrested and charged with felony for cashing in on $1,100 of scrap metal.
Davis recommended that Fletcher be terminated, saying that she was guilty of crimes in her role operating the federally funded Community and Economic Development Department’s weatherization program.
“We want to acknowledge two criminal statutes that impact the instant matter,” Davis wrote to Cutts, Fletcher’s department director; Lott; Assistant City Manager James Taylor; and then Human Resources Management Director Mary LaMont.
“First the forgery statute (OCGA 16-9-1),” Davis wrote. “When the employee the signed the applicant’s name to this document, a document specifically designed to show the applicant’s approval of repairs, and such act was done with intent to defraud, there is a sufficient basis for a felony charge.
“Second, the employee’s actions also raise the misdemeanor statute (OCGA 16-10-20) of falsifying a material fact or making use of a false document. This statute may validly be applied to the employee’s conduct …”
Davis continued, “The employee undertook to falsify the document. At a bare minimum, the misdemeanor statute unquestionably does not permit this. The impact on your department (a false document was prepared and you have to explain the situation to the agency that received that document) is such that it is difficult to imagine anything less than termination as an appropriate response.”
In earlier correspondence to Davis, Cutts stated that Fletcher “admitted to falsifying signatures on federal documents. After the transgression was discovered, Cutts was placed on paid administrative leave, and then was allowed to return to work from March 30 until April 9 as Cutts awaited direction from Lott on “final disciplinary action,” Cutts said.
Fletcher resigned April 12 after being encouraged to do so in an April 9 letter from Cutts.
Following is Cutts’ April 9 correspondence to Fletcher.
While preparing for a recent monitoring visit, a review of your weatherization files was conducted by your supervisor, Laura McCool. During her review of your files, Laura found numerous errors and missing documents. She also noticed what appeared to be discrepancies in signatures that were in the files. Further review of additional files by Laura also revealed what appeared to be other discrepancies in signatures. Laura, Shelena (Hawkins) and I met with you to discuss the concerns with the appeared (sic) discrepancies in signatures. When asked out right if you had falsified “any” signatures on any of the documents, you answered “yes.” You were advised that I would be discussing this matter with Human Resources in an effort to get guidance on the appropriate disciplinary actions.
In an effort to allow the time necessary to review this matter further, you were placed on administrative leave with pay until Wednesday, March 31, 2010. From the time of your return from administrative leave on March 31st until the present, there has been a detailed review of your weatherization files, thorough review of your performance history, as well as a review of the City’s current Disciplinary Actions and Grievance Policy. These reviews have been done in an effort to ensure that the appropriate disciplinary action be taken for this situation.
In the past 12 months you have received one oral warning (Nov. 10, 2009). This warning was for repeated issues with inaccurate reports being prepared and submitted by the scheduled deadlines. Despite the fact that there is only one warning in performance pro, Laura has submitted copies of a number of emails which reflect that there continue to be issues surrounding the timely and accurate submission of reports. Your most recent performance appraisal, completed on Jan. 29, 2010, reflects a performance rating of 2.94 Needs Improvement.
A great deal of consideration has been given to all of the circumstances surrounding this issue and it appears evident that your ongoing issues with being able to submit things in a timely manner have resulted in your decision to falsify signatures on documents that you should have gone out and had the homeowners to sign. Falsifying signatures is very serious and could result in a criminal offense. After consulting with human resources and the city attorney’s office, I would ask that you exercise the option to resign. If you decide not to resign, it is my recommendation that you be terminated effective today, which is Friday, April 9, 2010.
Please return any and all City of Albany property to the Department of Community and Economic Development and make an appointment with the Human Resources Department to seek information concerning your eligibility for benefit continuation and/or conversion.
You have the right to appeal my decision to the City Manager, Alfred Lott. If you choose to appeal this action, you must notify the City Manager’s office, in writing, no later than 10 days from the date of this letter.”
Lott, meanwhile, was forced in July by the majority of City Commission members to resign after LaMont filed a racial and sexual discrimination complaint against Lott. Lott has said that he is not under fire from the commission and that will leave his job on July 31, 2011 on his own accord, but multiple sources familiar with the dispute say that Lott is lying, and that he likely will depart his $138,000-a-year position, which he has held since 2005, much sooner than mid-2011.
Ironically, Lott also is under scrutiny for failings involving federal finances – including allowing a developer and church to obtain $500,000 and $364,000 of taxpayer funds without paying the money back or building the project. Both of those blunders were projects of the Community and Economic Development Department. The City Commission has asked the Dougherty district attorney’s office to investigate the Greater Cutliff Grove Missionary Baptist Church project, but thus far has allowed the unpaid $500,000 loan to Mayor Willie Adams’ former campaign manager to go without investigative scrutiny.
In another twist, Lott has lobbied recently for Davis’ ouster, saying that Davis is dangerous because he had a loaded gun in his office at the city police station, and because Davis’ son committed suicide.
Davis has not been charged; indeed, a public records review indicates that Davis’ crime was not investigated by police or the district attorney’s office.