Statement Issued on Behalf of Joel Tatum in Parks Situation

The following is a statement issued by Jeff Tatum on Joel Tatum’s behalf:

General Situation

  1. Credible Information was received from the former Parks Supervisor who was terminated a few weeks earlier for non-performance and knew about the Coke Machine Money and quoted EXACTLY how much was in there, then bragged about it.
  2. In the midst of this situation, the Mayor offered Joel another position as Parks Supervisor, and when Joel refused to take the demotion, he was terminated.
  3. The city attorney, Lester N. Bergum, Jr., along with others from the city interviewed current and previous parks employees during the internal investigation and found nothing to pass on to the prosecutor for formal charges. Prosecutor stated on 10/24 that no money was missing.
  4. The State Board of Accounts (SBOA) was called in to investigate and talked to present and former employees as well as Joel and found No Money Missing and No Misappropriation.
  5. The SBOA investigator verified that although the HISTORICAL practices were to have the department manage the Coke machines, since it was on public property the CITY had to manage them. Therefore, the process should change going forward. And this applied to all pop machines in similar situations around the city on city property.

Christmas Light Display Donations

  1. For Christmas Display donations, these monies were deposited same day after being counted in a safe location, which could include employee homes.
  2. This money was then subsequently used to purchase additional Christmas lights and displays at the superintendent’s discretion.
  3. Those purchases were initiated and approved by the Parks Superintendent and paid via check by the Clerk Treasurers office.
  4. Those purchases ranged in price from $10 to $10,000+
  5. These practices were in place for at least five years and known by city administration.

Petting Zoo Administration

  1. Donations were collected from the Petting Zoo by Parks staff
  2. Check donations were deposited to city accounts as needed.
  3. Cash donations were retained in the Parks to use as petty cash to purchase items necessary to house and care for the animals and to purchase new animals as the need arose.
  4. This process was an inherited process from the previous administration.
  5. This was confirmed by employees that worked at the parks prior to Mr. Tatum.
  6. Over the course of the almost five years Joel was at the Park, animals were bought and sold numerous times by the Parks Department and disclosed to the public and the administration with no questions or concerns voiced.
  7. The Parks Superintendent had implied authority to run the Petting Zoo as necessary to care for the animals and keep the animal population going as necessary and that was never questioned until this investigation.
  8. The aviary went from 87 birds to over 300 birds Mr. Tatum’s Parks Superintendent tenure and many of these bird acquisitions were published publicly and discussed at City Department head meetings and board of works meetings, most of which would include either the Mayor or Clerk/Treasurer or both. Again, no one ever questioned the manner in which this was being conducted, as it had been common practice for years.
  9. Petting Zoo donation deposits were, at times, delayed a few days due to volume of the donations or workload of the department.
  10. The Park Superintendent did not always have time to go the Clerk’s office each day for depositing, because he was operating without a Parks Supervisor. This was also magnified by the Parks Superintendent operating the Parks Department without an administrative assistant, which the park had for years, but the current administration refused to provide, UNTIL the new Parks Superintendent was hired.
  11. Now, it is such a critical position that even when the Admin. Assistant takes time off, a replacement is provided to ensure the Parks are ran efficiently.

Pop Machine Revenue

  1. Pepsi or Coke machines have been present at the TPA Park for a number of years, well prior to Joel Tatum’s arrival.
  2. Any machine placed in the park by Joel was to replace an existing machine that had stopped functioning.
  3. The City Administration and Board of Works were fully aware the pop machines were in the park and being operated by the Parks Department.
  4. As one of many examples of their knowledge, on May 28, 2013, there are Board of Works minutes approving the Concessions License agreement for Pepsi machines for them to present in the Parks and under the responsibility of Connie Howe, a Parks Department employee.
  5. However, the City Administration did not want responsibility for these machines, so the Parks Department employee was actually named as the party responsible and funds collected from the machines were kept at the park and deposited to a bank account in Connie Howe’s name.
  6. The funds at the Parks office and in the bank account were then used to purchase product for the machines and purchase other small items for the parks department or funeral flowers and the like, thus acting like a petty cash fund.
  7. When Joel took over as Parks Department Superintendent and Connie Howe subsequently passed away, a change to the bank account was necessary to retain access to the funds.
  8. The Clerk/Treasurer of the City was consulted about Connie’s bank account and she instructed Joel to work with the family to obtain the funds.
  9. Joel was successful obtaining the money.
  10. In 2017, Joel redeposited the funds in a new bank account in the name of Joel Tatum – Park Fund.
  11. The debit card and account identification card indicate the account is for the Park Fund.
  12. There was at least one other city departments with a coke machine where monies were retained prior to this situation coming to light. There was even a machine in Old Stoney maintained by the Janitor prior to its renovation.
  13. The process of the city departments having pop machines and retaining the money pre-dates Mr. Tatum.
  14. While money was retained in the Parks Department office in an unconventional manner involving coffee cans, the Parks Superintendent office was always locked when he was not present, thereby securing whatever money happened to be stored in the office.
  15. The money retained in the office could range from $500 to $1,500 depending on whether machines were recently collected and if petting zoo donations had not been used for a while to purchase new animals.

Miscellaneous Money in the Office

  1. There was approximately $400 in the Superintendent’s office at the time the investigation was conducted that was not city funds or parks fund retained
  2. The money belonged to the local Jaycees, because Joel is the treasurer of the Jaycees.
  3. The money was NOT being stored there, it was simply there on the particular day that the investigation occurred in a money box.
  4. The $67.35 found in the office was money from the previous day zoo donations. It would have been deposited that day, if the investigation had not interrupted normal business.

Room for Improvement

  1. Better records of donations received and expenses incurred spending that money should be maintained.
  2. Perhaps a safe could have been purchased for retention of any monies kept in the Parks office, but the money was secured nonetheless.
  3. Deposits could be made in a more timely fashion if appropriate levels of staffing were provided by the City to allow that to happen.
  4. Receipt dating was inconsistent and could be tightened up to always reflect when the money was received, but the delays were generally next day or two days later.