In the midst of ongoing controversy in the city of Bayou la Batre, a city councilor has threatened to bring new ethics complaints against Mayor Brett Dungan. Though Dungan and City Clerk Jaime Abastoflor allegedly have multiple pending issues before the Alabama Ethics Commission, the latest complaint was based on account statements from Regions Bank that Councilwoman Annette Johnson believes highlight multiple “personal charges” made by Dungan using his city credit card.
“This administration was elected in 2012, and we’ve tried to work with this situation as much as possible, but there comes a time when you just have to do what’s right regardless of how the chips may fall,” Johnson said during an April 23 meeting.
A copy of the packet Johnson turned over to the Ethics Commission was also given to Lagniappe and a television news reporter. Within it were account summaries for Dungan’s Regions Bank credit card dating back to 2013.
Some of the “questionable” charges Johnson pointed out included a $79 charge made by Dungan for an Amazon Prime membership as well as multiple purchases from Amazon, Office Depot and Best Buy. Also included were at least two charges for late payments made on the card.During last week’s meeting, Johnson also accused Dungan of charging $2,300 to purchase an iPad and an iPhone without the council’s knowledge and without submitting a proper purchase order.
Since discovering the purchases, city officials have had the cellular service to both of those devices turned off and during the meeting asked Dungan to return them to the city. Even though the council voted 4 to 1 in a motion compelling the mayor turn over the phone and tablet, Dungan refused, citing “safety reasons.”
“You want to take away the mayor’s connection to the people as we approach hurricane season?” Dungan asked.
When asked again if he would comply with the council’s vote, Dungan said “not without a court order, because I place the safety of the citizens of our town ahead of what your concern is.”
Other credit card charges highlighted by Johnson included several meals she claims Dungan purchased for his wife while on city-sponsored trips. As former attorney Bill Wasden has previously said, those meals would only be appropriate if the council voted beforehand to send Dungan’s wife as a representative of the city, which it has never done.
In fact, meals purchased for the mayor’s wife are the subject of another ethics complaint filed in late 2014, though some of the allegations in that matter cite the same instances listed in Johnson’s complaint.
During the meeting, Dungan never denied making personal charges on his city credit card, but when Lagniappe reached out for clarification of those expenses, he only responded with the contact information for his personal attorney, Michael Hickman.
Hickman, a former Mobile County Assistant District Attorney, is representing Dungan in a civil suit he brought against four members of the Bayou la Batre City Council this month after they voted to terminate the employment of his former assistant and restrict his ability to use public funds.
Attempts to get a comment from Hickman for this report weren’t productive prior to press time. However, Dungan has since reimbursed taxpayers for at least some of the funds the council has recently scrutinized.
Included in the packet Johnson distributed to the media was a copy of a personal check from Dungan dated March 1, 2015, reimbursing “The city of Bayou la Batre” $896.14 for expenses charged to his city credit card.
Some of those reimbursed expenses included the aforementioned charge to Amazon, several fuel purchases, several meals and tickets to the Seafood, Science & Celebrity event on Dauphin Island totaling $212.
Though there’s no evidence to suggest they’re related, the allegations of misappropriated funds came at the same time the city’s monthly profit and loss statements began to paint a grim picture of its current financial situation.
At the most recent meeting, Abastoflor said the city reported a $26,461 loss in March, a $64,511 loss in February and said year-to-date projected losses show the city ending FY 2015 with an approximate loss of $283,000.
Abastoflor said the shortfall was linked to a drop in revenue from the collection of business licenses in the city. Compared to this time last year, he said, there was nearly a $500,000 difference.
In an odd turn of events, Johnson said she would also be filing an ethics complaint against herself for failing to submit the financial information she gathered on Dungan in “a timely manner.”
“We are required within 10 days to do that, but it took me until just recently to get the Regions credit card statements and bank loan information to back up these claims,” Johnson said. “I didn’t come forth with that information to the Ethics Commission within 10 days and, as Mayor Dungan showed us in a previous situation, we hold our standard for ethics very high here. I hold myself there as well.”
Johnson was referencing a situation from last November where the city’s attorney, at Dungan’s request, notified the Ethics Commission of alleged violations committed by two sitting council members.
That incident ultimately resulted in those council members being forced to step down from the Bayou la Batre Utilities Board. At the time, Dungan said he was bound by state law Section 36-25-17 to notify the commission of any potential violation within 10 days.