Bayou la Batre Councilwoman Annette Johnson has launched several legal allegations at Bayou la Batre Mayor Brett Dungan recently, but during Monday’s working session she suggested he had also used his city-owned electronic devices to send her “inappropriate” communications.
After reading the city’s ordinance on appropriate uses of technology, Johnson cited two instances where links to articles or videos were sent to her Facebook account in private messages from a profile under Dungan’s name.
The links included a comedy video called “Dramamine” by Molly Ann Weemer, which Johnson said she received after asking the Mayor to have his former assistant Wanda Overstreet refrain from sitting at his desk during business hours.
Overstreet, a contract worker, was assigned to the community center by the City Council on March 12, where she was supposed to work out the remainder of a 30-day period. However, Overstreet returned to City Hall the following Monday and refused to leave.
According to Councilmember Ida Mae Coleman, Overstreet had to be escorted from the building by police. Her contract has since been terminated with “just cause” because of improperly submitted paperwork and for allegedly performing duties outside the scope of her contract.
Johnson said the second “inappropriate” communication was a link to an article about “lasting relationships” she said Dungan sent to her a few months ago. Johnson said the article, which discusses personal issues about relationships, was inappropriate and offended her.
“I’ve been married 41 years,” Johnson said. “I don’t need any help from anyone, especially the mayor, on getting my partner into the mood or anything of that nature. This falls right there into inappropriate communications.”
Dungan did not attend the meeting Monday and didn’t respond to emails about the alleged communications. However, Johnson spoke with Lagniappe privately about the matter last week after taking the concerns to investigators at the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office, who she said downplayed her concerns over Dungan’s electronic communications.
Johnson has already publicly reached out to the DA’s office about a $50,000 loan Dungan and City Clerk Jaime Abastoflor committed the city to without the council’s knowledge. It’s not known if the complaint has initiated any investigation.
Discussing the matter further, Johnson recommended the council reclaim Dungan’s city-owned iPhone and iPad and office computer, one or more of which she assumes the “inappropriate” communications were sent from.
The council also discussed adding a request to the Alabama Ethics Commission for an audit all of the electronic devices owned city to the agenda for Thursday’s regular meeting. A request for DA involvement and an external audit of all city accounts has already been sought, though it appears none of those have begun.
The information contained on those electronics has been of great interest to Johnson since she asked the DA to investigate several financial irregularities, many of which are purported to involve Dungan or his administrative staff.
Johnson has previously alleged that Dungan had a “privately-funded” computer specialist working on his office computer last week, and has since said multiple times she believes the mayor was having information “deleted or erased.”
“He said he was worried about security after the Bayou la Batre Fire Department was broken into,” Johnson said. That break in that was reported on March 16 and though no cash or household electronics were stolen, two computer towers containing information about city grants haven’t been accounted for.
Because of the current political climate in the city, the Bayou la Batre Police Department has turned the burglary investigation over to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office. Those she’s concerned about protecting the information on the city’s devices, Johnson said the city’s servers could recover any deleted information for up to 90 days.
Dungan, in the meantime, has since instructed his staff members to change the combination lock on a door leading to his office and an area of City Hall where public records are stored. When asked about the Mayor’s decision to change the combination without notifying the council, City Clerk Jaime Abastoflor said “If a council person had any request, they could always ask.”
Abastoflor said he had personally checked with Wasden, who was released from his contract with the city last week for preparing a $10 land transaction at Dungan’s request without notifying the council, and gotten the “OK” to change the combination.
Johnson reminded Abastoflor that Wasden had been replaced by Adams and Reese LLP, and said if he continued to consult with Wasden, he could “pay the legal bills.”
“We could raise a lot of money really quick by declaring anything in that office as surplus,” Johnson said. “Those are assets of that city, that door too. He needs to realize that we work together, or we’ll take the bull by the horns and do what’s necessary.”
During the discussion of Wasden and Overstreet’s contracts, Dungan warned the council “not to overstep their authority” several times even saying at one point they “could do what they want, but there would be a consequence.”
In response, Johnson asked newly appointed attorney Kevin Boucher of Adams and Reese what the ‘consequence’ for forging public documents to obtain city loans were.
“Typically, there’s some jail time involved,” Boucher said.
Despite disagreements over what the council’s authority may or may not be, Johnson said the ends justify the means. She also told Waden to “bring it on, Jack.”
“You either represent the citizens of the city, or you represent (the mayor) and (his) employee (he) hired specifically do to (his) duties,” Johnson said.
In other business, the council discussed paying back the $50,000 loan Dungan and Abastoflor approved through Regions Bank on Dec. 18, 2014. Johnson said the temporary loan was not set up to be a long term commitment, unlike other debt taken on by the city since Dungan’s election.
When asked why the loan hadn’t already been paid off, Jaime said it was Dungan’s decision to instead pay “pay $100,000 off of a $300,000 line of credit through PNC Bank.” According to Abastoflor, a payment on that debt hadn’t been made in over a year at the time.