Bryant Mayor Dabbs: No crime, but ... | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bryant Mayor Dabbs: No crime, but ...

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 5:30 PM

POOR JUDGMENT: Prosecutor says Mayor Jill Dabbs not guilty of crime, but showed poor judgment in increasing her own pay.
  • 'POOR JUDGMENT': Prosecutor says Mayor Jill Dabbs not guilty of crime, but showed poor judgment in increasing her own pay.

A press release has arrived from Saline Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady, who mounted an investigation after all into Bryant Mayor "Republican" Jill Dabbs unilateral decision to raise her pay and that of new City Clerk "Republican" Heather Kizer. (Background here on why Republican is part of the names of these new Bryant leaders.)

Casady, full release on the jump, said Dabbs committed no crime in increasing her pay. But .... he said he was "disturbed" by Dabbs' decision to raise pay without consulting the city attorney or City Council. He said Dabbs' excuse for the raise, a statute that I'd previously written doesn't apply to her situation, seemed "misplaced." He said the pay raise was "ill advised" and "wrong." He notes discrepancies in accounts given by Dabbs and the human resources office, Shayne King, that she fired. He concludes:


Dabbs exercised poor judgment when she decided to increase her salary and the salary of Kizer. Whatever the merits of terminating King, Dabbs should have been prepared to correctly manage the human resources department until a replacement for King was found. As Mayor, Dabbs’s knowledge of the City’s policies is implied. If she was unsure or had doubts about changing her own salary, she should have sought guidance from the city attorney, Arkansas Municipal League or an experienced human resources professional. The evidence indicates that her decision to proceed without assistance was ill-advised and wrong, but not criminal.

I have to hand it to Casady, a Republican, who'd seemed to shy away from this at the first. It's a full report. I've said from the start Dabbs ordered payment of money to herself and Kizer that she was not entitled to receive. If she hasn't repaid the excess payments she drew in three pay periods, she should. (Confidential to Ricky Dale Tripp: where's that alibi now?)

Next question: Will the mayor continue to seek special city subsidies for her daughter's swim team, the Bryant Barracudas.

I've asked the mayor for reaction and answers to a couple of questions. She has declined to talk with me previously.

NOTED: Both Dabbs husband, Alan, and Kizer's husband, Mark, are members of the Saline Quorum Court, the county governing body that has budget control over Casady's office. Critics are already saying he has a conflict of interest to consider this case at all under the circumstances. I may have cause to reconsider, but I think this was a pretty thorough repudiation of Dabbs' actions as high-handed and stupid. Which about captures her in a nutshell. Tis a tangled web down in Saline.

UPDATE: Those who prompted Casady's review aren't happy with Casady's report because they think he avoided the hard fact that Dabbs was solely responsible for instigating the pay raises. They provide an e-mail produced under the FOI from a payroll employee that illustrates the mayor, not the city employee, started the discussion that her pay should be higher. Dabbs is a conniver, no doubt. She also clearly concluded she deserved to make as much as the previous mayor, no matter what ordinances said, and then found a statute to hang her case on, however inadequate. This does, however, seem to make proving criminal intent difficult. But she certainly seems guilty of an illegal exaction of taxpayer money. Lucky for Bryant it was discovered early before a lawyer could make a big payday on it.

PROSECUTOR CASADY NEWS RELEASE

Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady conducted an investigation into the misuse of City of Bryant public funds at the request of Alderman Danny Steele. Mayor Jill Dabbs increased her salary, and the salary of City Clerk Heather Kizer, without City Council approval. Casady concluded that the Mayor’s conduct was not criminal and the evidence does not support filing criminal charges. He did, however, state that he is disturbed by the Mayor’s decision to increase salaries without seeking guidance from the City Council or city attorney, Nga Mahfouz.

The salaries of Bryant elected officials are governed by various city ordinances, policies, and the Job Evaluation and Salary Administration Program (JESAP). JESAP sets the minimum salary range for elected officials and the City’s Compensation Policies Generally (CPG) provides for increases based on experience and education. Larry Mitchell, the former Mayor of Bryant, received a higher salary than Dabbs because of his previous service as an elected official.

After speaking with Dabbs and Shayne King, the former human resources director for the City, there is some disagreement whether Dabbs knew how her salary would be calculated. Following the election, King says she informed Dabbs of the salary plan. Dabbs says she was not told. Shortly after taking office, Dabbs fired King. It has been reported that various alderman are attempting to award King a $9,000.00 severance package over Dabbs’s objection. Emails provided by King indicate that Dabbs requested a great deal of information regarding the salaries of various officials and compensation policies for the City.

Following King’s termination, there appears to have been a good deal of confusion in the City’s human resources department. In early January, the city employee primarily responsible for payroll, Glenda Begoon, took leave from her position. Cindy Phelps, a part-time accountant in the finance department, completed payroll in the absence of King and Begoon. While having general human resources and payroll experience, Phelps had not previously completed payroll for the City. According to Phelps, she had no knowledge of JESAP or the CPG salary increase at the time she performed payroll duties.

When Phelps began her work in payroll, she discovered that the former mayor, former city clerk and King were listed as active employees. She also learned that the former mayor and city clerk received higher salaries than Dabbs and Kizer. Phelps reviewed the minutes from several 2010 City Council meetings and the budget and could not determine why the salaries were different.

In her notes supporting the increased salaries for Dabbs and Kizer, Phelps references A.C.A. § 14-42-113. Dabbs appears to have provided this statute to Phelps. Dabbs’s reliance on this statute is misplaced. Dabbs has sought an Attorney General’s opinion regarding the City’s salary plan in light of A.C.A. § 14-42-113. It is unlikely that the Attorney General’s opinion will be favorable to Dabbs’s interpretation. Even if the City’s salary plan is found to be in error, Dabbs should not have ordered or allowed a salary increase without seeking guidance from the City Council or city attorney.

Phelps increased the salaries for Dabbs and Kizer in early February. The salary was raised to match that of the former mayor and city clerk. Phelps stated that Dabbs told her to make the change based on the statute and Phelps’s research. Phelps stated at no time did Dabbs threaten or intimidate her into making the change. According to Phelps, Dabbs said that she would deal with the City Council if she was incorrect.

Dabbs hired Robin Ussery as human resources director in February. Soon thereafter, Ussery informed Dabbs that the salaries were incorrect. Freedom of Information Act requests soon followed from interested parties and Dabbs publicly acknowledged what she had done. Dabbs’s and Kizer’s salaries were returned to their original amounts. Dabbs and Kizer asked the City to withhold the amount due to the City from their March 18, 2011 paychecks.

Dabbs exercised poor judgment when she decided to increase her salary and the salary of Kizer. Whatever the merits of terminating King, Dabbs should have been prepared to correctly manage the human resources department until a replacement for King was found. As Mayor, Dabbs’s knowledge of the City’s policies is implied. If she was unsure or had doubts about changing her own salary, she should have sought guidance from the city attorney, Arkansas Municipal League or an experienced human resources professional. The evidence indicates that her decision to proceed without assistance was ill-advised and wrong, but not criminal.

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