Months after a forensic audit alleged some Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority board members and employees misused funds and seemingly violated state laws, the question “what next” has yet to be answered.
The Theodore-based water board paid DV Consulting to conduct the limited audit, which found evidence of ethics violations, misuse of company funds, nepotism, burning of records and fear of one manager by all employees interviewed, among many other accusations. The audit even found the authority was paying the college tuition of one of its employees, who apparently spent work hours making sophomoric YouTube comedy videos.
While some of the findings such as the YouTube videos are not illegal, others are more serious.
Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl solely appoints the board for the water authority, although most members predate his election. Two of those board members are alleged to have engaged in nepotism and ethics violations, according to the audit.
“My concerns are what can I do now,” Carl said. “When I first suggested the forensic audit (on March 22), I did it because I thought it would clear them of speculation. Now this has opened a whole new avenue.”
Since becoming commissioner, Carl has replaced two board members. However, he said that’s not enough.
“What I think has to be done is clean up the board and then something can be done about the (MCWSFPA),” he said. “I think there needs to be some community involvement from the people who use the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority. The community needs to say, ‘We’re not going to take this’ and demand for a change.”
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said she would be looking into the audit to see if there are any possible criminal charges. Lagniappe has reported on issues surrounding the water authority for more than a year now.
So far the only result of the audit has been the termination of one employee and a contracted employee and a new set of policies, which have not been finalized as of press time.
Former MCWSFPA Office Manager Sylvia Hutto is accused of using the MCWSFPA credit card improperly several times.
“Records reviewed reflect Hutto twice misused her credit card to search AlaCourt. A handwritten note on the credit card statement states the charges were paid back. No verification of repayment has been made,” the audit reads. AlaCourt is a website that allows for users to search state court trials.
She also used the company credit card to pay for a beach vacation rental. According to the audit, Hutto also admitted to destroying documents, which is a violation of state law. Her husband Mark who worked on contract admitted to falsifying time and mileage sheets.
Following the audit, Sylvia and Mark Hutto were fired.
GIS Analyst Christopher Taylor, who was fired and then rehired, was the recipient of unusual generosity from the MCWSFPA.
MCWSFPA paid for Taylor’s college tuition to the University of South Alabama, although there was no written policy for a college tuition program or selection process. It is not clear why the board chose to do this for Taylor, as there was no agreement for him to work for the board in some capacity after paying for his education.
More importantly the audit says tuition was not reflected on Taylor’s W-2s. Taylor was also being paid by MCWSFPA while he was in class or doing his homework while at the authority, according to the audit.
One of the most embarrassing things found in the audit was a speech written by Taylor saying he only works for an hour a day and makes YouTube videos and pulls pranks during other seven hours of his workday at the authority.
The YouTube videos, which were filmed at MCWSFPA, are a series showing one employee hitting another employee in the groin. Two of the videos were named “Angry Beard versus Taco’s Nuts,” and another was “Slightly Less Angry Goatee versus Taco’s Nuts.” “Taco” is an employee at MCWSFPA who appeared in Taylor’s video being hit in the crotch with various items, according to the report.
The audit also revealed Taylor was arrested in a dog doping scandal at the Mobile Greyhound Park in 2006. Taylor pled guilty to a misdemeanor for simple gambling. According to the audit, Taylor was banned from the racetrack for life but went back while working for the authority. He was also alleged by the audit to have been running illegal betting sheets or squares for college football games at authority headquarters.
In regards to claims of nepotism, the audit says board member Jim White asked MCWSFPA General Manager Joe Summersgill to hire his grandson, William White, for the 2011 and 2012 summers.
However, in 2012 William White was in a wreck in a MCWSFPA vehicle. Authority policy states a drug test is required and when one was conducted, William White tested positive for two substances. William White was allowed to resign, which is not a normal practice, according to Sylvia Hutto.
Credit card misuse also was not limited to Hutto. Board member George Callahan used a MCWSFPA credit card to purchase his wife Betty Callahan’s flight to a MCWSFPA board member conference in Chicago. The reimbursement for the ticket was not made until two years later.
ABC Signs is owned and operated by Callahan’s son, Greg Callahan. ABC Signs is also listed as a vendor for the MCWSFPA, and did several hundred dollars in work for the board.
In 2004, then-state Senator George Callahan was found to have violated of ethics laws for obtaining $70,000 in state money for the Pecan Festival. A company owned by Greg Callahan handled the advertisement of that festival.
In addition to what the audit has uncovered, Lagniappe has revealed Hutto and her husband drove a water authority-owned backhoe to a nearby elementary school to do personal work, then left the piece of equipment behind a shed for several years. Also, board members and some employees were getting cut-rate water from the system — an ethics violation that has since been stopped.
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