HAINES CITY — In February, mysterious credit card purchases were brought to light at a Haines City commission meeting, with commissioners vehemently denying they had anything to do with the charges.
Last Thursday, they were vindicated.
At a February city commission meeting, it was revealed that between Nov. 11, 2021 and Feb. 22, 2022, the city made 310 acquisitions totaling $71,397 with its credit cards, according to records.
A further breakdown of those charges showed that 34 purchases, totaling a little less than $5,000, were linked to credit cards previously thought to be attributed to three city commission seats. But on Thursday, City Clerk Erica Anderson cleared up that perception at the invitation of Mayor Anne Huffman.
“I’m trying to clear my name,” Huffman said.
The credit cards in question were numbered three through five, which is why they were thought to be linked to commission seats three through five, occupied by Commissioner Morris West, Commissioner Roy Tyler and Huffman. But the cards in question belong to the city clerk’s office, Anderson said.
Originally, there was a single credit card. Only those in the clerk’s office were authorized to use it, as well as the city commissioners when traveling for commission-related duties, such as attending trainings or conferences with organizations like the Florida League of Cities.
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Eventually, with more commissioners traveling at the same time, a second card was added, Anderson said. But of the first two cards, one was lost and one was compromised. So Anderson’s office ordered three additional cards, leading to their numbering: three through five. But any of the card’s authorized users can access them.
“The city clerk’s office uses the commission credit cards and these are just cards — they are not assigned to a seat,” Anderson told The Ledger. “They are just used to make purchases either on behalf of the commission or on behalf of the city.”
The cards can be used for purchases such as gifts for an outgoing commissioner or to pay for vehicle tags for the city’s various fleets connected to departments such as fire safety or public works. Even if a generic city clerk’s card is used to make the purchase, the purchases are then attributed to the proper department for budgetary purchases, Anderson said.
“Any commissioner and anyone within my department can use those credit cards,” Anderson said.
But none of the cards in question are in use anymore.
Anderson said back in February, her office canceled the previous credit cards and ordered five new cards, one for each commissioner, in their names; she added that this was done before the purchases were questioned at the city commission meeting. Those cards were to be issued to each commissioner for their purchases. Anderson’s office ordered an additional four credit cards for each person in her office to be used for city business.
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Anderson said Commissioners Huffman, Tyler and Omar Arroyo, who was sworn on Thursday, declined their cards. Anderson said she would likely have to make travel-related purchases on those commissioners’ behalf.
Some of the purchases that were surfaced in February include a $151 purchase for pizza, several $11.31 Spotify transactions and a $398 purchase at Dollar Tree. On Thursday, Anderson said her office disputed one of the Spotify transactions and the money was returned.
“We never went and retained a Spotify account, so we were able to dispute our charges,” Anderson said. “That was the only thing that was on the cards that was not legitimate, that we couldn’t account for.”
But what about the other Spotify purchases, as well as the remaining $66,000 in acquisitions not attributed to credit cards three through five? Anderson said those purchases come from the other city departments, which each have their own credit cards. Some of them have active Spotify accounts.
In February, Huffman challenged several charges that City Manager Ed Dean made on his credit card, such as several dinners that totaled over $100 for two people. That triggered an audit of all of the credit cards, Anderson said, which did not reveal fraud within any of the departments.
Though he survived a vote to remove him from his post in February, Dean has since been placed on administrative leave. He threatened to sue the city at the end of April. On Thursday, Huffman made a motion to fire Dean immediately with cause, but it failed on a 2-2 vote.
Dean’s 10-day paid administrative leave ends Wednesday. The City Commission will convene to discuss the future of his employment Thursday at 2 pm
Maya Lora can be reached with tips or questions at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.