An internal investigation by the city of Clay has resulted in first, a three-day suspension without pay and then, as the investigation expanded, the termination and filing of an ethics complaint against a former city employee.
“I contacted the City Attorney on Aug. 16 concerning an employee who had violated city policy,” Mayor Ed McGuffie said. “I explained to the City Attorney that on Monday, Aug. 13, I received a telephone call from Ron McGuffie (brother of Mayor Ed McGuffie), Public Works Supervisor, and was informed that he had instructed one of the Public Works workers to deliver a ladder and a key to his residence so that his wife could enter the house. While the worker was at Ron McGuffie’s residence, Councilmember Charles Webster drove by and talked with the worker. While this conversation was occurring, Ron McGuffie drove up and Webster drove off.”
Webster confirmed that he was at the residence.
“I had a phone call that our city’s public works people were over working at a house in the area,” he said.
Webster went on to say that a city worker came out of the house and told him that they had been working on the house the day before and had returned to finish. According to Webster, he left when Ron McGuffie arrived to avoid confrontation.
Based on the phone call he received from Ron McGuffie, the mayor instructed Lynn Burch, who supervises Public Works, to suspend Ron McGuffie for a period of three days without pay for the misuse of city equipment.
“I also requested Lynn Burch to take statements from the Public Works workers concerning the above described actions by Ron McGuffie,” Mayor McGuffie said.
While securing the statements of the workers, one worker informed Burch that he had received a call from Webster the previous night inquiring about the use of a grapple truck by Ron McGuffie. After learning of this, Burch expanded his questions to include the use of the grapple truck at Ron McGuffie’s residence.
“Although, Councilmember Webster had knowledge of the improper use of the grapple truck prior to any city administrator, he did not report this to me nor to Burch who is over the Public Works operations, which is required by state law,” Mayor McGuffie said.
Clay City Attorney Russell Steen confirmed the Alabama law governing elected officials’ responsibility in reporting misuse of public property.
“State law requires that every governmental agency head, which would be the Mayor and Council, to report any matters that comes to his or her attention in his or her official capacity which constitute an ethics violation,” Steen said.
Webster said that he did not report the information because he was not positive about the use of the grapple truck until Tuesday morning, Aug. 14.
“When I talked to the driver (Monday) night, he said he went to the dump in Mount Olive,” Webster said.
According to the mayor, the statements that Burch received further implicated Ron McGuffie used city workers and equipment for personal gain.
“I made the City Attorney aware of the facts learned from the statements given by the workers,” Mayor McGuffie said. “I was informed by the City Attorney that not only was there a city policy violation, but also an ethics violation. The City Attorney also informed me that under state statutes, if the city becomes aware of any violations, the city has a duty to report such violations to the Alabama Ethics Commission. Upon learning of the ethics violation, I asked the City Attorney to contact the Alabama Ethics Commission to make sure of the procedure that we would need to follow in making the report from the city.”
Mayor McGuffie and Steen were informed that the Ethics Commission wanted any and all statements from every person who may have knowledge of the violation. They were instructed to forward all the collected evidence to the Commission with a letter of explanation.
“Since I had the employee’s statements, the City Attorney advised me and Lynn Burch to provide statements as to our actions taken,” Mayor McGuffie said. “I asked the City Attorney to place a telephone call to Councilmember Webster and asked that he provide a statement.”
When Steen called Webster to request a statement of what he had observed, Webster said that he would have to contact his attorney.
“I called my attorney and he told me that I didn’t have to give a statement, but I could go ahead and turn in what I knew to the newspaper,” Webster said. He said that he then gave the information to a local newspaper, but as of this time, has not given a statement to the City Attorney.
“I wanted to make sure that I had all the details before I turned it in,” Webster said. “By Wednesday, they had taken statements from all the employees and they knew exactly what happened.”
Upon reviewing the statement of the Public Works workers, the mayor said he made the decision to conduct a more thorough investigation. This included Burch obtaining the dump ticket from the landfill. The ticket revealed that on Aug. 13, time stamped 9 a.m
. and 9:16 a.m., the city was charged for 1,260 pounds of Construction & Demolition material, a $1 environment fee and a $1 fuel recovery fee.
Upon learning these facts, Mayor McGuffie instructed Steen to begin drafting a pretermination notice to Ron McGuffie for the actions that he had taken on Aug. 13, and the allegations of violations that Ron McGuffie had committed. Steen also began comprising a notice to the Ethics Commission.
“As the leader of this city, it’s difficult to fire anyone, but it’s also my responsibility to make sure that this city isn’t taken advantage of by anyone,” Mayor McGuffie said. “I take this job very seriously and I will not tolerate any misuse of city equipment, money, manpower, nor any other actions that will be dishonest toward the city of Clay.”
Attempts to reach Ron McGuffie for comment have been unsuccessful. The story will be updated as more information becomes available.