New strategies set at city departments handling inventory

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Announcing a realignment of Vicksburg’s purchasing and warehouse departments, Mayor Robert Walker declared, “There will be no questions this time around.”

Starting Monday, the first business day of the city’s new fiscal year, the warehouse will effectively be a separate department under the supervision of Dexter Jones, who until recently served as Walker’s administrative assistant.

Greg Haggard, the employee who took seven weeks of paid vacation each year while inventory records fell behind, will still be a part of the new structure, working in the warehouse under Jones.

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Jones oversaw the six-month effort to update inventory records that grew more than a year out of date on Haggard’s watch. Begun in the spring, that effort ended late last month.

Other changes include requiring all employees in both departments to have professional certifications in purchasing and requiring that all goods be checked in to the warehouse before being sent to city departments.

“I wouldn’t try fooling myself by saying the changes weren’t related to the problems of the last few months,” Walker said.

In April, the State Auditor’s Office began an investigation of embezzlement by city employees in at least two departments. The employees used fraudulent city purchase orders to obtain items for sale or personal use, according to reports at the time of the investigation.

“There will be more checks and balances in place under the new system, and only authorized people will pick up purchases,” Walker said.

Haggard, whose job performance became an issue when external auditors discovered records too far out-of-date to determine where public property was, will continue to work with inventory under Jones’ supervision.

An investigation during the spring by The Vicksburg Post showed that while fixed asset inventory lists were falling behind in 1998 and 1999, Haggard was working 30-hour weeks on average and taking home full-time paychecks. He said at the time that all his vacation time was earned and that he had been asking elected officials for assistance with his workload.

Haggard’s duties in his new position include “some things he was supposed to be doing before,” Walker said.

“Now there will be someone Greg Haggard is directly accountable to,” he said. “He understands what his duties and responsibilities are, and he will be required to discharge them.”

Jones, who will report to Purchasing Director Lorene Arnold, said Haggard will start with a clean slate.

“I’m not going to point fingers at Mr. Haggard concerning what he did or did not do in the past,” he said. “I will do my best to see that he is a team player.”

Arnold, who replaced former Purchasing Director Al Bettencourt when he retired in June, said she is glad to see the changes.

“I’m very enthusiastic about the checks and balances,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”

One reform Arnold has advocated is the “closed warehouse” system, where only certain employees will have access to the warehouse, she said.

New offshoots of the warehouse will open in departments that receive lots of inventory. The fire department and the gas department already have their own warehouses.

But all the warehouses will have an employee assigned to check new inventory against invoices to prevent future problems, Arnold said.

“We know we will have tighter control now,” she said. “If it’s not better, we’ll just have to look at it again.”