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by Jordan Green

Items from across the Triad and beyond

AUDIT: WSSU EMPLOYEES MISUSED UNIVERSITY VEHICLES

Eleven employees in Winston-Salem State University’s facilities management division received about $45,000 in offthe-books benefits through the use of university vehicles to commute between their homes and work, according to an investigation released by the NC Auditor’s Office on Monday.

The university justified the use of the maintenance vehicles for commuting on the basis that the facilities employees had been promoted to supervisory positions or had been assigned to respond to repairs at the chancellor’s home. But the report noted that the university paid for gasoline, maintenance, repairs, tires, insurance and license and registration fees for the vehicles.

“According to the university’s payroll manager and Internal Revenue Service wage and tax statements, the employees assigned to these vehicles did not reimburse the university for the fringe benefit they received,” the report states. “As a result, these employees may have violated IRS regulations and state law.”

The Chancellor’s home is owned by the university, although it is not located on campus.

Chancellor Donald Reaves told the NC Auditor’s Office in a Sept. 16 letter that, in response to recommendation from the agency, the university was ending the practice of permitting employees to commute in university vehicles that very day.

Reaves also concurred with a recommendation to require either the repayment of benefits or the amendment of IRS wage and tax statements to reflect the vehicle usage as a fringe benefit of the private use of publicly-owned vehicles.

“We are currently researching the exact usage of university vehicles for private/commuting use using all available records,” Reaves wrote. “We will complete the analysis by Nov. 1, 2013 and take action to either gain repayment of benefits or amend wage and tax statements as appropriate by Nov. 22, 2013.”

GREENSBORO SETTLES SEVERAL POLICE LAWSUITS

The city of Greensboro and plaintiffs in three lawsuits alleging racial discrimination within the police department announced a $500,000 settlement last week after council voted in favor of the settlement in closed session.

Though confident the city would have prevailed in court in two lawsuits involving 40 black officers, along with a separate suit brought by Officer Julius Fulmore, Mayor Robbie Perkiins and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson said they voted in favor of a settlement to save the city money on legal fees, provide a sense of closure and protect residents from enduring a lengthy trial that would have focused on trauma and negativity and would have prevented the city from focusing on other important issues such as jobs and economic development.

“It’s a way to close it with dignity and honor,” Johnson said.

Perkins said the cases have “burdened the city for a long time, adding that “it’s time to move on.”

Council members Nancy Vaughan, Zack Matheny and Tony Wilkins voted against settling the suits, city spokesman Donnie Turlington said.

The city has already spent $2.3 million in legal fees related to the lawsuits, City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan said.

Johnson said the city had previously offered a larger settlement sum for the cases that was turned down by plaintiffs.

A press release from Higgins Benjamin, one of the law offices representing the plaintiffs, said the officers feel “vindicated.”

“After suffering years of hostility during the [administration of former Chief David Wray] due only to their race and then being vilified in certain media outlets, 38 of the plaintiffs of the plaintiffs in the Alexander cases have finally gotten justice,” the statement reads.

Former officers Charles Cherry and Joseph Pryor did not agree to the settlement and will continue their cases against the city. Separate but related cases by Wray and Capt. James Hinson also remain unresolved.

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