The investigation that led to the resignation of former Transit Superintendent Betty Burriss in July alleges she not only took surplus city property for personal use, including a Yamaha power generator, but also purchased “suspicious” items, including baby products, for the same purpose on a city credit card over the last two years.
The report, obtained through an open records request by The State Journal, was emailed to the City Commission Sept. 21.
The report accuses Burriss, a city employee for 20 years, of stealing surplus city property instead of selling it at auction, improperly using city property for personal purposes and improperly using her city credit card for personal purposes.
The report, compiled by interim City Manager Walter Wilhoite, lists the suspicious purchases on 21 pages of receipts. Investigators also said Burriss admitted that city-owned furniture was in her house when confronted with questions there.
Annie O’Connell, Burriss’ lawyer, to whom she referred most questions, said, “Betty adamantly denies these allegations.”
The report concluded that criminal investigation would not be needed considering Burriss resigned, forfeited more than $5,000 in accrued leave and returned the allegedly stolen city property.
“This should be the end of this,” Wilhoite said, adding that he doesn’t have an exact amount for how much Burriss forfeited, but said after 20 years it “could be a substantial amount.”
Wilhoite said that sometime before July 24, employees informed supervisors of possible misconduct by Burriss. Those supervisors told former City Manager Fred Goins. Goins then ordered Wilhoite, who is also chief of police, to begin an investigation.
The report states that a surveillance video from the Transit Department on June 28 showed a red pickup truck, believed to be Burriss’, pulling away a utility trailer containing items. Wilhoite said an employee, who said he or she was ordered by Burriss to load the trailer, told investigators Burriss was taking home furniture that had been in the training/break area. Wilhoite said the furniture had recently been replaced by new furniture. The employees who loaded the trailer are not in trouble, Wilhoite said.
“They were following orders,” he said.
Investigators traveled to Burriss’ home on Mt. Zion Road July 27 and asked about the missing furniture. The report states she initially denied having the furniture then admitted it.
The following items were allegedly taken:
nOne glass table
nOne brown loveseat
nOne brown recliner
nOne Yamaha 6750 Powermate generator
nOne utility trailer
Investigators said Burriss initially denied that a 42-inch flat screen television at her home was city property, but her husband, Allen Burriss, later took it to the police department.
Wilhoite said the TV, which belonged to the Transit Department, was put in surplus because Betty Burriss said the DVD player was broken. Wilhoite said Burriss took the television home and purchased a new one for the department.
Wilhoite said the missing items also sparked an investigation into Burriss’ city credit card usage. The report contained 21 pages of her receipts containing suspicious purchases.
The receipts, determined to be suspicious by investigators, include purchases such as Christmas wrap, a Yankee Candle product, various women’s clothing, a Nuby cup for small children, a GB Toddler and baby snack product, sunglasses, shoes and Thin Mint cookies. The suspicious purchases were interspersed with seemingly legitimate items for the Transit Department.
“Some of them didn’t pass the smell test; some of them could be explained,” Wilhoite said.
The receipts were from 2011-2012, and Wilhoite said the city didn’t investigate receipts from previous years.
“There may be more (suspicious purchases), but we didn’t see anything on the surface,” Wilhoite said.
He couldn’t provide a total dollar amount for the suspicious purchases.
Wilhoite said Burriss likely knew questions were being asked shortly before investigators visited her home. The city also investigated whether she used city money to fill personal vehicles with fuel, but found no evidence.
Wilhoite said sloppy paperwork in overseeing receipts for purchases on city credit cards allowed Burriss to allegedly commit the wrongdoings. The report included a list of steps the city is taking to protect against future indiscretions.
“By taking some basic steps, we have rectified it by having the department heads look at purchases made by their subordinates monthly,” Wilhoite said.
Burriss referred all questions about the case to her attorney and decided instead to focus on the positive aspects of her tenure.
Burriss said ridership grew dramatically during the five years she was manager. She thanked her colleagues for their help over the years.
“I hope to see it keep building because there is a great need out there,” she said by telephone Friday.
Wilhoite said there were no rumblings about Burriss’ alleged misconduct until shortly before the investigation.
“She was a good and valued employee for many years,” he said, adding that she simply made a mistake in judgment.