MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) Elected officials are sworn to represent the citizens of their community. When you vote, you trust the person will do just that. What about city officials who lose their re-election bid, but still have access to money the new officials are suppose to use to keep the community operational? If they spend all the money, is it legal?
Newly elected Prichard Mayor Troy Ephraim has improvement plans for his city, but challenges to try and make them happen. He has a city that's been in bankruptcy. A city with a high crime rate and a city that has abandoned homes and overgrown lots.
"$1500 maybe less, a $1000 to clear it up depending on the contractor," said Mayor Ephraim.
The challenge is he can't pay for many of the improvements he wants. The resource he planned to use, now has a balance of less than $2.00.
"It's an unfortunate circumstance that I wouldn't have wished on anyone," said Mayor Ephraim.
That unfortunate circumstance was to have his $10,000 discretionary fund spent before he was even sworn into office.
"It's a matter of ethical respect that obviously has been violated," said Mayor Ephraim.
Violated Ephraim says former Prichard Mayor Ron Davis spent the money. It wasn't illegal but Mayor Ephaim says it could possibly hurt the city.
"Often times we use it for donations to Mobile Community Action to help with assistance on water bills, gas bills, power bills," said Ephraim.
The mayor and members of the city council in Prichard are each given $10,000 in their discretionary fund account. Every city government has it; some cities receive a lot more money. It's money they can use at their discretion to make improvements to their districts or fund a community need. It's money that is given to them at the beginning of every fiscal year which begins October 1st. This year was an election year for Prichard. Mayor Ephraim and the new council members didn't take office until November 5th. For 3 weeks, the money sat in the account untouched. Ephraim was offcially elected October 23, beating Davis in a runoff. Six days later, Ephraim says, the discretionary funds earmarked for his office were nearly all spent by the outgoing mayor.
"We're still trying to determine what the expenditures were for. Where did they go to and were they necessary at the time they were spent," said Mayor Ephraim.
Local 15 got a copy of city records that show where the money was spent. Just about all of it on October 29th. Remember, Ephraim didn't take office until November 5th. Nearly $800 at Hurricane electronics. Almost $5000 with American Express. More than $4000 was moved to another city fund. Was it a deliberate act by a lame duck mayor to sabotage the incoming administration? I went to the former mayor to try to get some answers. For several days I tried to reach former mayor Ron Davis. Leaving him voice messages about what I wanted. Even stopping by his house on several occassions. He still has not responded to me. As far as the current mayor and how he plans to get through the next 8 months...
"So now you have to wait until October to help someone who may have a need today? Or get extremely creative in finding a way to put those funds back in there," said Mayor Ephraim.
Mayor Ephraim stressed what happened in Prichard with the discretionary funds can happen just about anywhere unless laws are changed.
"The entire council has to take some action by power of its office and then maybe by an ordinance so you're not giving the incoming person the opportunity to determine what to do with tax payers funds. It may require state legislative action. Depends on how the statute is set up. It's something that has to change," said Mayor Ephraim.
Ephraim's discretionary fund wasn't the only one spent. Two new members of the Prichard city council also walked into office facing the same situation. They say the majority of their funds were spent by the outgoing council member.