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Mabton City Council discusses policy changes

MABTON - Mabton City Council members dedicated their regularly scheduled study session this past Tuesday night to reviewing and updating the city's personnel and policy manual.

After reviewing the manual at length, Councilwoman Oping Hutson made several suggestions to add to the manual.

Hutson said she felt city personnel should be prohibited from using city issued cell phones for personal calls.

This subject matter caused an uproar in April, when Mayor Velva Herrera admitted publicly and to the press that she was using the city issued cell phone for personal calls and not reimbursing the city.

Hutson said employees should also be prohibited from making any personal calls unless they are on breaks.

Hutson, too, broached the subject of city issued credit cards.

"We should not have credit cards," she said firmly. She said city personnel should use their own personal credit cards, then provide a receipt in order to be reimbursed. "If they don't have receipts, then they don't get reimbursed," she suggested.

Mabton's got a history of misuse of city issued credit cards.

Herrera used a city issued credit card in March of last year, gifting public funds to the Washington State Historical Society. All told, $100 of taxpayer funds was gifted to the society in association with a dinner she attended at the Governor's mansion.

In June of 2007, Washington State auditors found that former city administrator Ildia Jackson used a city issued credit card, charging $1,322, of which the city paid $938. Jackson then paid $384 owing on the bill using her personal funds.

At the same time, auditors found that former police chief Raul Almeida used a city issued credit card and charged $924. On that particular bill, Almeida paid $100 out of his own pocket but left no paper trail indicating it was related to city business.

Hutson told council members that "a while back," a city employee went out of town for a seminar or conference and took her boyfriend with her, charging his airplane ticket to taxpayers.

"We can't do that," she said.

The city has four credit cards, possessed by the mayor, city clerk and public works employees.

Hutson said she wanted it stated in the policy manual that all travel requests be approved by city council.

She also suggested that the city invest in a time clock.

At this point in the meeting, Councilwoman Vera Zavala asked City Clerk Kitty Curtiss, "Are we still having a problem with that," to which Curtiss responded affirmatively.

When asked by a Daily Sun News reporter to clarify the subject matter, Zavala said that in the past there have been issues with time card accuracy.

"We just want to make sure they come on time, leave on time and are taking breaks when they're supposed to," she said.

Hutson also said she felt that the city needs to keep an inventory of its tools.

"There are times when we buy this tool, and sometimes (buy) another tool. But what happened to the (original tool)?," she said.

Councilman Mario Martinez asked Herrera if the city kept an inventory of equipment and tools valued at $500 or more, to which Herrera responded, "Could be. Could be."

The subject of cross training was also broached. Zavala said she went to city hall to make her house payment and was told she couldn't because the city employee that knew how to process it was gone.

Council than discussed allowing the public to help update the policy and procedures manual. City Attorney Jack Maxwell said, "I don't think the public should have any input...you folks are elected to (do this)."

He added, "If you try to have the whole town do these things, nothing will ever get done."

Council is expected to discuss the manual again later this month.

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