Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler announced today that two city parks employees have been suspended while being investigated for making deals with a soda vendor that may have benefitted a golf pro financially.
Beutler said during a press conference that on Thursday the city’s purchasing department discovered a contract between the city-owned Ager Junior Golf Course and a local soft drink vending company that was not approved by the mayor, City Council or parks director.
On Friday, the city law department voided the contract, and in the ensuing days “other possible improprieties” were discovered, Beutler said. It appears the employee who executed the contract not only negotiated it without legal approval, Beutler said, but also negotiated terms that benefitted the employee personally, to the tune of about $3,000.
The city’s golf program — five golf courses — is in the red and owes the city $800,000. In a cost-cutting move, earlier this month the mayor proposed cutting assistant parks director Steve Hiller‘s position — saving nearly $149,000 in personnel costs — and having golf administrator Dale Hardy take over his duties. Two sources — who wished to remain anonymous — told Nebraska Watchdog Hiller and Hardy are the employees who were suspended.
The mayor said an investigation is underway, and one question being looked at is whether this “diversion of benefits” was approved by Hiller. The city has hired a local certified public accounting firm, HBE Becker Meyer Love, to audit the entire golf program.
“While the amount in question appears to be about $3,000 at this point, the utilization of public resources for private benefit of even a small amount jeopardizes the trust between the city and its citizens,” Beutler said. “We have moved quickly to deal with the situation and ensure the appropriate action is taken.”
Both employees have been suspended for 30 days without pay, Beutler said. If the allegations are unfounded, the employees will be reinstated and reimbursed pay. If true, disciplinary action will be taken.
“We should not assume anything until the Police Department and the auditing firm have had the opportunity to finish their work,” Beutler said. “The employees involved must be presumed innocent until gathered evidence proves otherwise.”
Beutler said he expects the investigation to take three or four weeks.
Reported by Deena Winter, email@example.com.
To sign up for free e-mail updates Nebraska Watchdog, click here.