No arrests made in utility case

Published 11:24 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Local law enforcement officers listen as Mayor Earl Johnson conducts a press conference.

Local law enforcement officers listen as Mayor Earl Johnson conducts a press conference.

A four-week investigation into allegations of misconduct in Andalusia’s water and sewer departments has led to the termination of two employees and the suspension of one.

Mayor Earl Johnson said in a press conference Tuesday that the investigation revealed that $28,000 had been improperly spent and that utilities board equipment had been improperly used. Johnson said he expects the funds to be recovered.

The department head and assistant department head for water and sewer are no longer employed, Johnson said. A supervisor in the department has been suspended without pay. He declined to reveal the names of those involved, citing state laws that prohibited him from doing so.

The criminal portion of the investigation has been turned over to the Covington County District Attorney’s office, Johnson said. No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.

To see a timeline of events, click here.

District Attorney Walt Merrell said his office “readily accepts Johnson’s request to adopt the investigation into the irregularities at the City of Andalusia Utilities Department.”

Merrell said his office will enlist the aid of the Alabama Bureau of Investigations, the Alabama Ethics Commission, and a forensic accountant.

“Over the last two and a half years, I have found myself called to investigate and prosecute a mayor, a utilities clerk, various other public employees, and now this. We will not shy away from the task at hand,” Merrell said. “We will identify what the problem is and hold the wrongdoers accountable. I also intend to issue a full report to an executive session of the Utilities Board at the conclusion of this investigation and detail for them not only the nature of any criminal scheme that may exist, but also any problems pertaining to oversight and checks and balances which ought to be addressed.”

Later in the evening, Merrell released an additional statement clarifying that he was in no way suggesting wrongdoing on the part of the Andalusia Police Department in their investigation.

Merrell said no further statement will be made to the media by anyone involved in this investigation until arrests are made or indictments are issued.

Johnson said the investigation also revealed an unrelated matter in which four employees of that department made untruthful statements on their employment applications. One has resigned; another had not completed his probationary period and has been dismissed; and two others are being dealt with pursuant to personnel policies, Johnson said. The four were in no way involved in the potentially criminal portion of the case, he said.

The mayor said he wanted to assure Andalusia residents and consumers that the problems in no way impact the quality of water and sewerage services in the city.

“The water system is in good condition,” he said. “The sewer system is in as good a condition as can be expected.”

Outside consultants have been retained to ensure the quality of services, he said. He also has named Micah Blair acting head of the water and sewer departments.

The investigation began on a tip from a former employee who cooperated in the investigation.