Since Parker Live’s coverage of a widely-distributed letter sent earlier this week accusing the Parker Town Manager of misappropriating gift cards, a lively discussion has emerged about the case. But some things can be settled on the basis of fact.
Here’s what we know about the situation at this point. (This may be updated if information changes.)
Is this ‘old news’?
Justin Pierce, an attorney for the Town of Parker writing at the request of Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer, released a statement saying that everything the accuser Corina Crispin alleged had been resolved many months ago and therefore she is “no whistleblower.”
The initial issue Crispin’s letter addresses came to light as a result of a routine audit back in February. The auditors’ report, dated February 7th, noted the problem and advised that changes needed to be made to ensure that they didn’t happen again. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office investigated, and although they found issues with the way the expenses were handled, they found “no criminal malfeasance.”
However, Crispin says that not everything was addressed in that process. A statement (link) by a spokesperson for the Attorney General said their office is aware of new allegations in the matter and advised her to file a criminal complaint, which they say she has not done.
What did the auditors’ report actually say?
Under the category of ‘significant deficiencies,’ the auditors found that bonus payments to employees, in this case $40,000 of payments made with gift cards, were not being approved by the Town Council as they should have been. This number is less than the $48,900 Corina Crispin alleges.
The report confirms Crispin’s allegation that no record was kept of where the gift cards went, saying, “Management did not maintain proper supporting documentation, which would list the employees who received these gift cards. Some of the gift card purchases did not have the supporting invoices with proper authorization in accordance with the Town’s purchasing policies.”
Additionally, the payments were not being included in the employees’ reported wages with proper payroll taxes withheld in accordance with IRS regulations.
There is nothing in the report to support Crispin’s other assertion, that the gift cards were added to Wedemeyer’s compensation for the year, or that she was issued a further check to cover the tax liability. But those things were confirmed by Mayor Dan Beaver elsewhere.
Does the Town admit wrongdoing?
Yes. Pierce called them “honest mistakes,” saying, “Nobody has ever argued that the Town didn’t previously have some deficiencies in internal controls. Those things can happen. But after review, it was never anything other than honest mistakes in controls and processes, which have long since been addressed and corrected.” In other words, just because some things weren’t done correctly doesn’t mean there was any malicious intent.
In an interview with Dennis Wagner at the Arizona Republic, “Wedemeyer said she gave a $1,000 bonus to herself and other department heads, while full-time staffers got $500 and part-timers received $250. Parker has 57 employees.” She said it is a Town tradition for the holidays and had never been questioned until the auditors’ report.
Even though Mayor Dan Beaver and Wedemeyer admit these errors, the auditors’ contract was not renewed. In a Republic interview, Beaver confirmed Crispin’s allegation that the whole amount was marked as income for Wedemeyer, with the Town agreeing to pay the tax liability she owed on the extra income. He said the alternative would have been to have every employee amend their tax returns.
Why is this only in the news now?
None of the Parker area media outlets covered the issue back when the audit was first presented to the Council on March 20th. It wasn’t widely known until Crispin dispersed her accusations widely earlier this week. Parker Live immediately asked Wedemeyer if she wanted the opportunity to respond, which she did via the town’s attorney. She has been helpful with information and forwarded the auditors’ report when we asked for it.
Does Crispin stand by her allegations?
She does. “Thank you John for reaching out to both sides for comments,” she said Wednesday. “I stand by my original statement. I am not a disgruntled employee, my only intention is to bring out the truth. I welcome an outside investigation, if the town council is about transparency they will also welcome an outside investigation.”
In an interview with the Republic, Crispin calls Parker “a good-ol’-boy town.”
Is Crispin under investigation herself?
Crispin told the Republic that she had a disagreement with Police Chief Clay Romo and is now being investigated for insubordination. Because such personnel matters are considered private, we don’t know any more about it, or whether it was a major or minor matter. But it’s probably safe to say that the relationship between her and her employers has soured.
What are the outstanding questions?
In Parker Live’s original story on Monday, two council members expressed a desire that the issue be “effectively addressed.” The Town Council then held an executive session to talk about the issue on Wednesday. Among the questions that may have been addressed in the session:
- Were non-employees included as recipients, such as La Paz Economic Development Corporation CEO Skip Becker?
- Is there a list of recipients anywhere?
- Have gift cards been bought and issued outside of holiday time?
- Is there evidence of wrongdoing by Crispin?
- Have the auditors’ recommended changes now been implemented?
Executive sessions are held in private and the discussions are not public.