Mayor Issues Response to Comments Made in Paper Article

Frankfort Mayor Chris McBarnes has issued a response to the comments made by former Frankfort Parks Superintendent Joel Tatum which appeared in an article in the February 20 edition of the Frankfort Times.

After turning over all the facts and information about financial irregularities at the Parks Department to the Indiana State Board of Accounts and having them work through their process, we were hoping the SBOA’s report was the end of this matter. We accepted the outcome of their report, but apparently Joel Tatum is unwilling to do the same.

For the past six years, the McBarnes administration has communicated the good, the bad and the ugly in a spirit of full transparency. This situation is no different. While we take no pleasure – and a great deal of time away from this week’s priorities – in continuing to address this situation, we are committed to ensuring the facts are shared about what did and did not transpire during the very disheartening situation last fall at the Parks Department.

Facts matter. Taxpayers always deserve to know the truth and to feel comfortable that every leader on our team is held accountable for following proper procedures when handling the public’s money.

The following is shared to help clarify and, in some cases, correct misstatements from Mr. Tatum:

  • Every City employee underwent training on our Internal Controls Policy passed by the Frankfort City Council. Joel Tatum signed a form on September 14, 2016 that he had received the training and understood the policy.
  • On October 5, 2017, $1,071.60 and $67.38 was discovered in two coffee cans in Joel’s Parks Department office. That unsecured money is taxpayers’ money according to the Indiana State Board of Accounts’ examination and report. That action alone – keeping public funds in coffee cans in a government department office – is unacceptable. There is no way to prove where the money came from (e.g. is it donations? vending machine money?)
  • Initially, Joel claimed no knowledge of the money, but later said it was money collected from the pop machines and donations to the petting zoo. That lack of recollection of more than $1,000 of unsecured cash and then recalling it is a major red flag.
  • From the Frankfort Times’ article today: “According to Tatum, in an email sent to Dodd, he did not contend that the money was his personally but that it was revenue from the pop machines that historically had been used to refill the machines and to be spent on behalf of park employees for staff lunches, birthday celebrations and funeral flowers, etc. It was in that context, he said, he felt the money should be returned to the Park employees, not to him personally.”
  • The attached email dated October 5, 2017 from Joel to Jack Dodd states otherwise: “That money, which is profit made form (sic) a private contract I hold through Coke, is not part of park funds and I would like that money returned as soon as possible so that I may put it into my coke account. When Connie passed away, we started collecting the money in coffee cans and that was one I just hadn’t deposited yet. Again, I apologize for any confusion there may be about what has been going on, but that money is private, not city owned. Again, I’d like it returned, since it is my money. It has just always seemed so worthwhile to use it so that it benefits the whole department.”
  • Again, the SBOA determined those funds were taxpayers’ money, not Joel Tatum’s.
  • Department heads cannot take cash – the public’s money – and do with it as they see fit. There is a process to receipt it in, submit claims and donations to the Clerk-Treasurer’s office.
  • In 2013, the City approved a professional licensing agreement with then Parks employee Connie Howe to operate the Coke machines at the Parks as a contractor. That contract was terminated with the passing of Connie in 2016 and no other contract was established. That contract did not simply carry over to Joel Tatum. Contracts are made, approved and renewed by bringing them forward to the Board of Public Works and Safety. That step was done properly in 2013. Joel Tatum had no such contract.
  • The Frankfort Times’ article showed a credit card with the name “Joel P. Tatum” and “Park Fund.” We have a copy of a check in Joel’s name for $170 payable to Coke from his personal account that does not have “Park Fund” on the check.
  • Joel admitted telling Park employees to date receipts incorrectly. Receipts are to be dated the day a donation is made, not the date the receipt is submitted. Directing employees to falsify receipt dates is in direct violation of our Internal Controls Policy.
  • Elected Frankfort Community Schools Board Member Jeff Tatum’s comments in the newspaper article are concerning. “He (Joel) was essentially operating a petty cash fund, but without records, but the money was used for things like zoo fencing, animal food and bedding. As for the zoo donations and the money from the Coke machines, the cash was kept in Joel’s office, which was locked at all times.”
  • This was contrary to statements from Park employees that the office was not locked at all times.
  • Are we to believe that as an elected public official, Jeff Tatum thinks operating an unauthorized “petty cash fund” is acceptable and shouldn’t go through a sound system of established checks and balances? Is Jeff Tatum suggesting that what has happened here is not serious and shouldn’t have been examined with the proper action taken, given that known and agreed to City policies were violated? Would he be comfortable if the same violation happened in our school system?
  • Last point of clarification: Joel states in the FT article that he was placed on administrative leave at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 5 after the meeting with Dodd and Bacon. After a meeting with myself and Jack Dodd on Tuesday, October 10, Joel was offered an opportunity via a phone call to accept a demotion and come back as parks supervisor where he would have no contact with payroll or money. Joel requested a specific amount of time to consider the demotion and was given 24 hours to consider it. He was told if he declined the offer, he would be terminated from employment.
  • On Wednesday, October 11, Joel asked to speak with me and Jack Dodd and we met with Joel. After a lengthy discussion, Joel was told his 24-hour time was up and he was asked for his decision. What he left out in his comments in the newspaper is that even though his time limit had passed, I offered him the use of my side office to call his wife to make a final decision. He took me up on the offer, went into the side office, shut the door and came out a short time later and declined our offer and was terminated.

Bottom line: when mistruths are stated, facts must be brought forward. Despite how unpleasant and painfully disappointing this situation was, City officials followed the law in accordance with the Indiana State Board of Accounts and the City of Frankfort’s Internal Controls Policy passed by the City Council.

We are the stewards of taxpayers’ money and its use must be safeguarded at all times by everyone on our team. We will do no less. You should expect no less from us.

Mayor Chris McBarnes