September 23, 2017

Credit card fraud,fees,and redaction spark debate by Heard County Commissioners

A discussion about the county credit cards took place during the regular monthly meeting of the Heard County Board of Commissioners on March 22 at the Heard County courthouse in Franklin.

District One Commissioner Karen Isenhower had complained recently about the reluctance of the commissioner’s office to respond to her open records requests for past county credit card statements.

Additionally, Isenhower argued that the credit cards have been used frivolously and that a large amount of money has been wasted on late fees and finance charges.

It was revealed during the meeting, that four credit cards are currently in use under the names and possession of Commission Chair June Jackson, County Clerk Patty Jiles, Fire Chief Scott Blue, and the technology department.

The credit card issue was brought up for discussion by Heard County Finance Director Felicia Adams under section E of new business.

Adams began by reading from a prepared statement about the reasons for the reluctance by the commissioner’s office to share credit card statements with Commissioner Isenhower:

“Before we start this discussion I would like to preface this discussion by stating that if there has been any perceived reluctance or hesitation to discuss the county credit cards it has not been an attempt to withhold or hide any information.

On the contrary, it has been an attempt to safeguard the financial data such as account numbers, which if released, would compromise the county’s financial integrity.

In May of 2010, the cards were examined by an outside party and in June 2010 fraudulent charges were attempted and as a result the account had to be closed.

In August 2011, the cards were examined again by an outside party and at the end of the month fraudulent charges were found and two credit cards had to be closed.”~Finance Director Felicia Adams

Credit Card discussion at Heard BOC Meeting March 22, 2012 (Part 1) from HeardCitizen.com on Vimeo.

After the meeting Commissioner Isenhower discussed the statement issued by Adams: “I don’t appreciate being accused by our finance director Felicia Adams of credit card fraud. Her accusations are completely without any foundation. She may not have used my name directly in the statement but her intentions were very clear,” stated Isenhower.

“I have only wanted to try to show the citizens of this county that the county credit cards are being used like personal credit cards and with no accountability. It is the finance director’s job to make sure that account numbers are redacted properly. This was clearly a slanderous statement towards me.”

Adams stated during the meeting that the county had suffered no financial losses due to the fraudulent charge attempts.

Commission Chair Jackson questioned Adams asking her if she had ever had any other credit card issues since she had been employed by the county. Adams said that since she arrived in 2003 that no fraudulent credit card activity had taken place until after the examinations by the outside parties.

The finance director responded in a phone interview about Isenhower’s statement: “I was not accusing anyone of anything,” stated Adams.

When asked to reveal who the outside party was that she had referred to in her prepared statement, Adams reported that Commissioner Isenhower was indeed the outside party who examined the records in May of 2010 and that Isenhower along with a citizen from District #1, Paul King, were the outside party that examined the records in August of 2011. She also stated that no other parties have ever examined the statements.

Credit Card discussion at Heard BOC Meeting March 22, 2012 (Part 2) from HeardCitizen.com on Vimeo.

Adams also revealed after the meeting that the Heard County Sheriff’s Office had investigated the fraudulent attempts made in August of 2011.

A copy of the report released by the Sheriff’s Office which was dated August 19,2011 made no mention of any suspects in the case. Both Heard County investigators who had been in charge of the case, Derrick Walston and Melinda Davis, also confirmed that no suspects or leads were ever identified.

The report did show that Felicia Adams had informed investigators that an employee of Epoch (one of the companies the fraudulent charge attempts were made through) had told her that one of the names used to make one of the fraudulent charges was a Thristan Chowers with an email of gmills1978@gmail.com.

Picture A

According to the sheriff’s report, Adams never mentioned Isenhower or any outside parties who had previously examined the credit card records when she reported the fraudulent charges to the Sheriff’s Department.

Adams also provided us copies of the credit card statements in which the fraudulent charges had appeared. The charges she showed us had actually been made on June 12, 2011. (See Picture A at right)

As shown above from the meeting transcript, Adams had stated that the credit card statements had been examined in August, 2011 which was after the charges had already been made to the accounts.

“What concerns me the most about this situation is the total lack of professionalism by both Adams and the Commissioner’s office. Yes, I have pulled credit card records and I can tell you for a fact that the redaction process that is in place is very poor. I have been handed several credit card records where all of the account numbers are clearly visible through the black-out. This is not my fault. It is the job of the commissioner’s office to protect public information and account numbers and the job they are doing is not up to standards,” stated Isenhower.

Isenhower provided an example of a 2009 credit card statement she had received from the commissioner’s office where the numbers of Commission Chair June Jackson’s credit card are clearly visible. (See Picture B below)

Picture B: Commission Chair Jackson’s credit card bill from 04/03/09 provided by Karen Isenhower which she said she received from the commissioner’s office via open records request. The numbers are all clearly visible in two different places on the bill although some numbers have been redacted (blacked out) electronically by the Heard Citizen.

An anonymous source who is employed by a government office in another Georgia county spoke about the redaction process as it pertains to public records: “It can be difficult at times to properly redact and secure all of the information that we release, but it is the most important part of our job. We have no room for mistakes. We black-out and re-copy as many times as is required until we are certain the vital information is secure. This is always checked and re-checked before being released to the public.”

Adams also spoke about the allegations made by Isenhower in regards to late fees and finance charges that were accrued on the credit cards. She stated that sometimes unforeseen circumstances can require that purchases exceed the credit limits for the cards.

She cited an example where several of the recreation department teams had unexpectedly made the state playoffs in 2010. She stated that the booking of several extra hotel rooms pushed the card over the limit causing an over-the-limit fee to be imposed.

Commission Chair Jackson stated in an interview about the topic in January of this year that many times the credit card bill is paid late because Adams does not have an invoice in hand at the time of the due date. She said that all invoices must be in hand before the credit card bills are paid.

Adams stated during the meeting that the total of  fees and finance charges paid on the county credit cards from 2009-2012 amounted to $1674.38.

Isenhower was not allowed to discuss specific credit card line items or purchases during the meeting. Commission Chair Jackson stated that she has offered on several occasions to sit down and discuss those items with the district one commissioner item by item but that Isenhower has refused her offer.

Isenhower stated during the meeting that she did not wish to discuss any items at the commissioner’s office because she had been verbally assaulted there in the past. Isenhower also said that she would like to discuss the items with the county attorney and county auditor present.

Credit Card discussion at Heard BOC Meeting March 22, 2012 (Part 3) from HeardCitizen.com on Vimeo.

Jackson stated that the costs of having the attorney and auditor present would be too high and that it could only work if Isenhower agreed to pay for the attorney’s fees and the auditor’s fees.

Jackson said that she would allow other commissioners to be present if they would like to sit in on the future meeting with Isenhower about the specific line items. As of this time that meeting has not been scheduled.

Isenhower also asked Jackson if she always signs credit card receipts personally when making purchases with her credit card or if sometimes someone else signs her name.

Jackson stated that she often lets county department heads take her card to stores to make purchases. She said that she sends a formal letter with them giving them authorization to sign for her and use her card.

The county attorney Jeff Todd stated that allowing others to sign one’s name is a common occurrence in the State of Georgia and that it is only considered forgery when it is done without permission.

 

 

Comments

  1. Georgia has a long and proud tradition of encouraging openness in governmental meetings and records.As Chief Justice Weltner stated in the case of Davis v. City of Macon; Public men and women are amenable at all times to the people, they must conduct the publics business out in the open.

    I can’t understand why Commissioner Isenhower cannot discuss credit card line items or purchases during the meeting.It looks and appears Chairman Jackson does not want the public to know what’s going on in the Commissioners office about the credit card issue.

    It looks and appears the other 4 Commissioners should be asking questions.

    I use credit cards to.Every credit card I’ve ever seen has a billing cycle.If you pay for what you have bought during the billing cycle there’s no reason for late payments or interest fee’s.

  2. James Chambless says:

    Public records are open and available to the public. There should not be a requirement for a commissioner to have to explain why the records are wanted, the newspapers of the area should pick up the glove and answer the challenge to see what they are trying to hide. The information sought was what was being bought and by whom and under what circumstances. The commission is ultimately responsible for the expenditures and should be presented each month with a copy of who, what, when and where the money is going.

  3. I think that every month, that every dime they spend in the county should be posted in the News and Banner, and what it was spent on. The county is cutting teachers and they are not getting pay increases. I wish one of our teachers would run for Commision Chairman, as a rule they are better educated than any of our politicans. I hear Kathy Scott is retiring after this school term. I think she would make a good Commision Chairman and she is HONEST!!

    • The school board is responsible for teachers and their salaries not the board of commissioners. Any cuts that effect the school system are done by the board of education.

      • I know the school board is the one that sets the millage rate for the schools, they are part of Heard County, as are the board of Commisioners. Waste is waste no matter where it is!

  4. I reread June Jacksons comment about the cost of having the county attorney present while auditing the credit cards, since when has she been worried about what somethin costs?

  5. The one policy that needs to be changed at the Heard County Board Commissioners is giving the Chairperson the authority to spend up to $5000.00 without Board approval.If the Chairperson has to present request for mileage reimburstment when going out of county on county business why not all expenses go before Heard County Board of Commissioners even if it’s spent on Little League uniforms or whatever the expense might be.

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