The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 26, 1998 · Page 6
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 6

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Thursday, March 26, 1998
Page 6
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THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 1998 w S C THE PALM BEACH POST 6A rcTsTfiisiifoirts Fancy meals, side trips cloud resignation lC J t pre ann their secretaries received OVERSTOCKED fnr the trin- his wife oaid her own Selected Name Brand SPORTCOATS Silk Wool SilkWool Assorted Sizes & Styles Reg. '395 to $450 NOW 189 raises higher than those granted union employees even though the city had a policy banning merit pay, the audit said. The raises lifted the pay of 10 employees above the maximum for their position, Isaacs said. She also questioned Wright's decision to use money from water and sewer customers to pay the city marketing director's $70,000 salary and another $80,000 over three years to maintain the Centennial Fountain. While disputing wrongdoing, city officials agreed to pay for the fountain with general revenues. Staff writer Marcia Gelbart contributed to this story. Mayor Nancy Graham criticized Wright for the way he handled the $7,500 bonus she authorized Aug. 15. But she said she had no problem with his travel record, including three trips with his wife, Karen, Graham's executive assistant. Among the trips: a visit by the couple to Sacramento, Calif., in May 1996 for a two-day telecommunications workshop. Graham said she told Wright to visit Car-mel, Calif., to look at landscaping. Wright extended the trip for three days, writing the city finance director that it saved $968 in airfare. During that time, the couple visited coastal Monterey and Napa Valley wine country. Wright billed the city $1,116 way. However, she didn t take any vacation days, which Graham has since instructed her to do. Isaacs also questioned $40,000-plus payments to each of three former department heads, among eight city officials paid $193,000 to leave in the last two years. In the absence of a policy, Wright negotiated settlements with several employees who agreed not to sue the city or talk publicly about their departure. The payments, which did not undergo city commission review, violate a state statute that says the city can't pay people after they stop working, the auditor wrote, a finding city officials rejected. Additionally, high-level staff- By Joel Engelhardt Palm Beach Post Staff Writer WEST PALM BEACH While City Administrator Mike Wright plans to resign today over his own $7,500 bonus, he also has been hounded by allegations that the city acted improperly by allowing high-cost meals and unjustified travel, large payouts to remove top employees and raises for favored administrators. His departure would be the first major fallout from the investigative report by Internal Auditor Imogene Isaacs. The audit cited a lack of local policies and violations of state law that resulted in employees running up $36,321 in restaurant and catering bills. As city administrator, Wright is charged with setting up such nnlirips Special Purchase POPLIN SLACKS a fnr$no or Platen J WY 1 1 U Full Selection of Portly Sportcoats Available Mon.-Sat. 9:30-5:30 655-0546 Alterations available at cost. I . . M Among the most critical findings: Wright added a $120 tip to a $658 bill that already included an 18: percent gratuity. That increased the cost of dinner for 15 at Sforza a Clematis Street restaurant just a block from city hall to $778. "This meant the tip was actually $224.55 or 41," the audit said. State statute, which doesn't allow reimbursement for local meals, applies because the city has no policy of its own, Isaacs said in a finding disputed by the city. Despite the yearlong investigation, Wright charged $102 for groceries to make 3 gallons of chili, the trophy winner in a cook-off that raised the city $615. Graham offered bonus to close pension plan WRIGHT From 1A lot of time on the details: oroduo V 'm Mi mMAm? ' ' ' i r1 Sale 2 for $60 Sale 19.99 Sale 27.99-29.99 13 off Dockers and Savane Pure cotton and wrinkle-free styles with plain or pleated fronts. Reg. $38-$48 Sale 32.99 ea. Knit shirts Selected patterns and prints in great colors from Tribute and Club Room. Reg. $26-$30 Spring suits and sportcoats Geoffrey Beene & Club Room Suits. Reg. $300-$475 Sale 199.99-315.99 Save on all Geoffrey Beene wrinkle-free and Srjortcoats. Res. $165-$300 Sale 109.99-199.99 Club Room pinpoint styles. Reg. $35-$45 tion people don't necessarily do so." he said. , Wright told Graham last year that the city could gain millions oi dollars it an employee pension nlan could be closed. According to both Wright and Graham, here s what happened: ' Graham said that if Wrieht :iyr . .. r III could pull it off, she'd give him a bonus. "I was leaving a carrot out - i- ' U 7 i k j- 1 1 i l jSfc - IT I there. I wanted it done fast," Graham said. ' When he found a solution, Wright came back to Graham and asked for $10,000. Graham agreed to reward him for "outstanding work performance," but promised him only $7,500 because the pension deal hadn't yet been completed. First, though, she asked Wright to make sure the bonus was legal. Savings are i - jj It0 "mSi . ' I rhSSS-,t.m mm .1 Ho rherlcvA nnH tnld her it was However, Finance Director Tom Harris obiected. iottine on Gra ham's authorization memo that the commission's approval might be required. Harris refused to sign the check. Graham asked Wright again whpthpr it was leiral: he checked and rpnlied for a second time that it was. "He brought me the check to sign," Graham said. She did. : "I had the guy who's my right- hand next person telling me it was OK. In my mind, I didn't question it," Graham said. 9,hp said she didn't learn it 1 ll . -.J L' ...;I?C" : I might have been improper until . i f r, ? J City Attorney rat Brown aavisea hpr so on Feb. 10. Two davs later, I II - ni 25-30 off she read about it in the audit re Anv size 89.99 50 off Sale 39.88 port. , ITnlpss there is soecific com mission aDoroval. state law bans Dan River Strada bed-in-a-bag Kids' dress up Includes everything you need for the perfectly Dresses, blazers, trousers, polos, separates and coordinated bed. Reg. 1 19.99-149.99 more. Reg. $28-$70 Sale 19.60-$49 Meyer 8-piece cookware set Atlantic Infinity II luggage Milano set designed with nonstick surface for Satchels, garment bags, canyons, pullmans and easy clean-up. Orig. $100 more. Reg. $100-$400 Sale 44.88-189.88 pvtra comoensation. the audit said. "I think it was a close call. USE THESE COUPONS Writrht said He said he thoueht the bonus was permitted under thp ntv rharter. ana ne aiant know about the state law. Graham said she doesn't be lieve Wright intentionally lied to her. But, she said, Wright's failure to tret the lecral details angered and pmharrassed her. "Would I do something that's inappropriate if I knew I was in the middle oi an audit?" she asked. Wednesday nii?ht. Graham said that thoueh she values Wricrht'c arrnmnlishments. the f ! city wouldn't be crippled by his departure. I go out there anai necrntiate these deals ." she said. "I 40-50 off 50 off Oneida flatware sets 2nd Royal Velvet towel set Hn thpm mvself " rpiiilli Rut she hadn't decided 20-pc. sets for 4 or 45-pc. sets for 8 with 5-pc. Pure cotton in great colors. Bam, nana, wasn. 3 piece set. Reg. 25.97 2nd Sale 12.97 whether to accept his resignation "I'm not afraid of losine Michael,' nosiess sei. rteg. odd-jid3 aate she said. "I just don't think it's the macys right thing for us right now. City commissioners could still decide to give Wright his bonus. They are divided, with Jeff Koons and Al Zucaro favoring repayment and Joel Daves and Mary Hooks undecided. Howard Warshauer said Wright deserves the money. "I don't think we should lose what I consider a great administrator over a misunderstanding," he said. Staff Writer wl Engflhardt contributed to this story. m bo a . ..,c.,trnnK ia RF Ofrf Bf FJTl,&E rTNrS T CaKTl fW P'1 A'.: OPK, Pa-CES P:F'T rSWj toiCSOt SVS V NOT Bt BMDON CTjL SAi fS s.rtVMBEOt '- Br. w Sa.

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