Questions surface regarding PSA’s new hire

The Camden County Public Service Authority hired a new director on Thursday, but was unaware of past allegations of financial mismanagement during his previous employment. 

Mayor Kenneth Smith, who chairs the joint board of city and county elected officials, expressed concern after the Tribune & Georgian showed him 2016 articles from its sister newspaper in the Fernandina Beach, Fla., the News-Leader, on Friday.

The articles focused on a city-sponsored bluegrass and barbecue festival in which Robertson, the city’s parks and recreation manager, published flyers requesting that checks for entry fees be made out to him personally. The event was eventually canceled due to financial mismanagement, reported the News-Leader and several other Nassau County, Fla., media sources.  

“I am really taken aback by this,” said Smith, during a phone call on Friday. “I have only talked to Mayor (John) Morrissey so far, but he is concerned. I’m concerned. And I am surprised that (county human resources director Katie Howard) did not pull this up.” 

The PSA board tasked Howard, who works for the county, with screening the candidates, Smith said. Two county commissioners, Jimmy Starline and Chuck Clark, and Woodbine Mayor Steve Parrott also are voting members of the board. 

“If (the board members) have got to go out and vet these individuals ourselves, then we don’t need these individuals who are sitting there being paid,” Smith said in an interview with the Tribune & Georgian. 

Robertson continued to work for the City of Fernandina Beach, Fla., until January, when he left to become the director of the Ware County recreation department. However, at the time of the event cancellation in Fernandina, his supervisor was suspended for three days without pay for the incident and Robertson was removed from handling special events, according to news reports. 

Fernandina Beach also hired an independent accountant, who recommended the city perform a fraud risk assessment and a forensic audit into special events and their finances. 

“The most serious recommendation in the independent accountant’s report is for the city to conduct a forensic investigation after an interview with Robertson revealed he had deposited city funds into his personal bank account,” stated an Aug. 17, 2016, article in the News-Leader. “‘He was asked to provide a detailed report to prove that any and all city funds had been returned to the city for deposit to the city’s account. No such report has been provided to us as of the date of this report,’ wrote the independent accountants.”

The Aug. 17 article also noted that the accounting firm found that special events contracts in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were signed only by Robertson, which they said made him personally liable for the contracts, not the city. 

A nearly 16-year employee of the city, Robertson was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing and did turn over the money he collected to the city, but the accountant said his practices gave the perception of financial impropriety and left the city open to mishandling of funds.

The PSA board voted unanimously to hire Robertson to replace former PSA director William Brunson, who was fired and indicted last spring after allegedly diverting $38,500 in PSA funds for two personal vehicles. The recreation department also has an estimated budget shortfall of $700,000 at the end of last fiscal year, created by unpaid bills. 

A forensic audit is ongoing and expected to continue for months, in addition to the active criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Tribune & Georgian

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