Former assistant to Walker gets 11th-hour promotion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2001

[06/27/01] With less than a week before a new administration takes office, outgoing Mayor Robert Walker along with North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young voted to promote Walker’s former administrative assistant to head of the troubled warehouse department.

The promotion comes with a raise. As the new department head, Dexter Jones, will go from $13.52 per hour, or $28,122 annually, as an inventory control clerk to $31,000 per year to run the department. The new position is a salaried one.

The 2-1 decision made Monday during a closed session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was announced simply as a promotion after the meeting. No explanation was offered.

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When asked about the promotion Tuesday, Walker said that although South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb did not sign off on the promotion, that there was no controversy.

“We were under the impression that the proper title had already been given and we wanted to make sure that it had been done,” Walker said.

Young could not be reached, but Habeeb said the decision to promote Jones was made without considering job performance or advertising the position that has been open for nine months.

“This was done at the last few days of our administration,” Habeeb said. “That’s going to make Mr. Jones look like a purely political appointee to the next administration.”

Walker leaves office Sunday when Mayor-Elect Laurence Leyens and South Ward Alderman-Elect Sid Beauman take their oaths of office. Habeeb did not seek re-election while Young will start her third four-year term.

“I think it’s inappropriate for the current administration to be making changes a week before we take office,” Leyens said.

Jones had served as one of Walker’s three administrative assistants until October when he was made inventory control clerk over the new inventory department. Greg Haggard, the employee who took seven weeks of paid vacation each year while inventory records fell behind, has continued in the department working under Jones.

Widespread failure to document new items as they were purchased by the city came to light during a state investigation of local practices. At the time, Haggard was critical of the administration for not providing him enough help and said his average work week of 17 hours was fully approved under city holiday, vacation and other leave policies. It was about then that Jones was moved from City Hall to the city warehouse.

Habeeb said that at the time he understood the position was to be a temporary one to help bring inventory records up-to-date and that the city should have advertised the job to find a permanent head of the department.

“We had agreed that this position was very important because of the problems we had found last year with the inventory,” Habeeb said.

Officials began looking into warehouse practices after an employee in the vehicle maintenance department, was arrested and accused of embezzlement in 1999.

Following that arrest, 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.

Pete Smith, spokesman for the audit department, said that the investigation was ongoing, but would not comment on how far the investigation had gotten or when it might be completed.

“I don’t question for one second Dexter (Jones’) integrity,” Habeeb said. “But that’s not the only issue you use in determining a very important job.”

The purpose of fixed asset inventory records is to keep track of what the city owns, when it was purchased and where it is located. Walker said that since Jones had taken over the department, the inventory was being kept properly.

“Because of him, there has been a tremendous change over there and the taxpayers have benefited,” Walker said.