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Jackson

Documents: Misuse of gas cards widespread

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Newly obtained documents show systemic

misuse of gasoline cards by Jackson city officials is widespread.

From July to October, an audit of the Fuelman discount gas

program revealed that 945 of the 1,088 employees authorized to use

a card made questionable purchases, resulting in about 24,260

flagged transactions, the newspaper says.

The Clarion-Ledger reported Sunday that documents the Jackson

newspaper recently obtained show the misuse ranges from low-level

employees and to the mayor's office.

The city is not currently investigating employees. The state

auditor's office would not confirm or deny it is investigating.

Among those whose purchases were marked as potential problems

were Mayor Frank Melton and the Jackson police officer in charge of

the department's fleet. Another JPD officer was cited for

questionable purchases 172 times in that 90-day period.

Memos from city leaders show problems have lingered for at least

three years, but city officials have said they cannot single out

honest mistakes from blatant stealing.

"We don't have the internal controls in place to make sure

every drop of fuel is going into city vehicles - and we're aware of

this," said Valerie Nevels, the head of the city's internal audit

division.

City officials did say several public works and police employees

have been arrested in the past after being accused of stealing gas.

They have not estimated how much money the city may have lost in

recent years through Fuelman purchases.

Jackson uses Fuelman to fill up city-owned and operated

vehicles. The service gives the city a 30-cent-a-gallon discount at

participating stations.

The city is working to fix the problems, Nevels said.

In October, the audit division sent notices to employees,

warning them that they would face disciplinary action if they

misuse the gas cards or fail to turn in proper documentation.

The city is starting a three-strikes program. Employees who have

undocumented problem purchases will get a verbal warning first,

then a written report, followed by an unpaid leave or termination,

Nevels said.

City staff have reviewed the fuel policies with department

leaders.

The city has set aside about $4.03 million for fuel this fiscal

year, which started Oct. 1. The city came in under budget for fuel

in 2007-08, budgeting $4.64 million and spending $4.02 million.

On Aug. 1, 2005, Melton and Chief Administrative Officer Robert

Walker sent a memo to department directors saying irregular fuel

charges had been showing up. The memo warned that if those

purchases continued, disciplinary action would be taken. But the

problems continued, eventually raising concerns from the city

council.

Councilman Jeff Weill has proposed that the city reduce the

number of workers with gas cards, prohibit people from manually

keying in card numbers and cut back on the 168 area stations that

accept the cards.

"I want to move forward. I want to solve this problem," Weill

said. "I also want to look back and do something about the

employees who inappropriately used the cards, ranging from

admonitions all the way to firing or prosecution."

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

http://www.clarionledger.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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