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Choking on checkbooks?

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Up to 30 bank accounts in Quincy money mess as two commissioners speak of receiving threats

ROBERT ALLEN

Times Reporter 

The Quincy City Commission met March 25 for their regular meeting. The evening revolved around financial concerns — and removing Jack McLean, then-city manager. 

Those discussions overlapped.

“We’re just reluctant to stay in our budget,” said Commissioner Derrick Elias. “Nobody up here wants to decrease our expenditures, it seems like. Let’s just live within our means.” 

No one objected. 

Jeff Williams, Quincy’s interim finance director, later estimated the city owes around $23 million. 

Commissioner Larry Edwards asked Jack McLean, then-city manager, if the administration could investigate the possibility of selling the city’s telecommunication interests. 

Mayor Keith Dowdell objected, saying “somebody’s going to come back and sell it to us,” noting the city will then need to secure an outside Internet provider if they sell their own resource. 

Both Edwards and Commissioner Andy Gay said the city has lost more than $2.8 million from telecommunication operations since 2008. 

“It’s been a burden on the taxpayers of this city since the inception of it,” said Edwards.

Dowdell acknowledged the losses — but indicated a desire to hold out longer in the hope of recouping these costs and then profiting. 

“We took a risk,” said Dowdell. “Now that we can make money, you want to get rid of it — and it’s something we own.”

No conclusion was reached. 

Williams presented the commission with an audited report for the financial year ending Sept. 30, 2012. 

The report confirms deficits in spendable net assets or fund balance.

The document reads, in part, “There are several reasons for these deficits, some weather related, some are businesses leaving the City and some resulting from corrections of long standing accounting inaccuracies, as far back as 1994 including the Due-To’s and Due-From’s among and between the General and various Utility Funds.”

According to Williams, a major urban city should not have more than five accounts. 

Williams said Quincy has as many as 30 separate accounts, a financial tangle complicating all auditing endeavors. 

Williams also sad the maze of accounts “disguises” which money goes where for what purpose. 

The last item on the evening’s agenda was the removal of Jack McLean from the position of city manager. Several citizens spoke earlier in the evening, making arguments for and against the continuation of McLean’s employment with the city. 

Arguments against McLean alternatively called into question the manager’s level of aptitude, methods of application and quality of character. 

Commissioner Gay took specific exception to McLean concurrently signing a contract with a municipality other than Quincy — Riviera Beach. Gay wanted to know why McLean had not informed him of this agreement. 

McLean said Elias had addressed the matter three years ago during commission meetings in Gay’s presence. McLean also said the contract only entailed occasional legal counsel — an arrangement McLean said he engaged in strictly on his own time, serving as few as 10 days in a 24-month span. 

McClean listed his personal contributions to the city, including the solicitation of multiple grants totaling in the millions. 

Gay told McLean he had lost confidence in him. McLean told the commissioner he didn’t need to explain. But Gay told the manager he felt he owed him an explanation. McLean said he appreciated that. 

Elias motioned to remove McClean, operating with the understanding that the city manger had a viable contract. Commissioner Micah Brown seconded the motion. Elias, Brown and Gay then voted to remove McLean. Dowdell and Edwards voted to keep McLean. 

The motion passed. With his contract considered in play, McLean was terminated immediately — not after a two-week notice. 

The manager collected his papers and left the chamber before the meeting concluded. 

A special meeting to discuss the particulars of McLean’s severance — including compensation — scheduled for April 1 and subsequently cancelled. 

The March 25 meeting also marked City Attorney Jerry Miller’s penultimate appearance in the commission chamber. His law firm, Pleat, Perry & Ritchie elected to discontinue their involvement with the city. 

“The city managers gone,” said Dowdell. “The city attorney’s gone. The finance director’s gone — and it’s been stated in a public meeting that we’re broke. So about Friday, do you think we’ll be getting a phone call from our trustees saying, ‘I need my money?’” 

Williams said that wouldn’t likely happen. 

Just before the meeting’s conclusion, Brown said he had received a “disturbing” letter — and he wanted the sender to know he read it. Brown offered no further explanation. 

In a later Times interview, Brown said the letter concerned his support of McLean’s removal. 

“I will not respond to it,” said Brown. “I will not entertain foolishness.”

Brown also said he would not involve the police. 

“I won’t,” he said. “I don’t have to give it to the police. I have people on it — close relatives. They’re kind of guiding me on what I should do. It will eventually get to FDLE’s hands.”

“With that letter, anybody would look over their shoulder,” said Brown. “But I will continue doing what I need to do for my district and my city.” 

Brown would not elaborate further.

“I can’t give you any more answers now because I’m not finished doing what I need to do,” said the commissioner, 

Elias told the Times he had had similar experiences —but more habitually. 

“There have been threats saying ‘we’re going to get you,’” said Elias. “‘If Jack goes — you go.’”

The commissioner said he doesn’t know what that means — but he also said he is taking all threats seriously.