Gary Council subpoenas Mayor Freeman-Wilson and Officials – 8.1M Audit

Gary council subpoenas mayor, other top officials for financial transfers info
Karen Freeman-Wilson

Gregory Tejeda / Post-Tribune / September 19, 2018

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, her chief of staff and other top municipal officials in Gary are being subpoenaed by the city’s Common Council for any documents they have related to transfers of funds from the Fire Department’s ambulance fund.

That fund, known formally as Fund 224, was the subject of an audit by the Merrillville-based Whitaker & Associates accounting firm that found it was some $8.1 million short of where city officials thought it should be.

The shortfall, according to the Whitaker study, is due to money transferred from the fund intended for ambulances and other equipment used by paramedics to other parts of the city budget. Some 55 percent of the shortfall wound up being spent to cover payroll expenses in recent years, officials said.

Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, said Whitaker’s study, which was commissioned by Freeman-Wilson, does not satisfy her. She wants the Common Council to conduct its own investigation into the fund.

“You’d never see the House (of Representatives) just blindly accept a report by the president,” she said. “They’d do their own study.”

Sparks-Wade sponsored a request Tuesday to have the Common Council issue subpoenas to Freeman-Wilson, Dayna Bennett, Freeman-Wilson’s chief of staff, Controller Angelia Hayes and Fire Chief Paul Bradley for any and all documents any of them may have that relate to money being transferred from Fund 224.

MORE COVERAGE: $8.1 million transferred from Gary emergency account, report says »

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Her request received an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Herb Smith abstaining. Smith later said he abstained because the council investigations committee would be the entity that would receive any documents that the government officials provide, and would handle any investigation that eventually takes place.

Council President Ronald Brewer said he has no problem with the Common Council continuing to investigate the matter, which already is likely to face a detailed accounting by the State Board of Accounts. Smith also had no objections, although he couldn’t say when a council investigation would begin, or how long it would take.

Sparks-Wade said she is not prepared to let the matter drop because she is particularly offended by a finding of the Whitaker report that said just over $132,000 of the $8.1 million the fund was short cannot be fully accounted for.

“That is a lot of money to be unaccounted for,” Sparks-Wade said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

Freeman-Wilson declined to comment on the council’s desire for its own investigation, although in the past she has said the fund shortfall is evidence of how precarious Gary government’s finances are in relying continuously on transfers to various parts of the budget in order to ensure that bills get paid.

In other business, the Common Council deferred acting on an ordinance restricting where day care centers could be located in the future. Smith, who says he fears people with criminal records for sex offenses against children are permitted to live near daycares, wants to study the issue further.

Also, two ordinances related to the 2019 calendar year budget for Gary – including the parks, police and fire departments – were introduced, and assigned to the council’s Finance committee.

Three other ordinances, including measures related to the budget for the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the Gary Public Transportation Corp., had action deferred so that the Finance committee could continue to study them. State law gives the city until Nov. 1 to have its municipal budget approved for next year.

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