Suiter responds to allegations
By: By Dennis Suiter, Martin Parks and Recreation Director
To the Editor:
“Please” call me if you have any questions. Thanks for your consideration and I do realize very much how this places you in a situation of reporting the news regardless of who it is while trying to be as accurate as possible. I would NEVER want to even try to do your job. Here’s my response:
Due to recent media coverage regarding an investigative audit of “selected” records of the parks and recreation department, I feel an obligation to not only address some of the issues but to definitely clarify others as well. I am aware of all kinds of rumors that have been circulating for quite some time. I am actually very relieved for the audit “letter” to be received so that most of those rumors could be put to rest. There is a wealth of information I can share with the public. At this time, I have decided to address those I become aware of which might affect public opinion.
In an article appearing here in the Weakley County Press last Tuesday May 13, reference was made to personal purchases made by myself with city funds involving the following three items: 1. A canopy tent already belonged to the department, as do several others. We have loaned some out for various reasons over the years. Yes, I did use it and it was intended for short-term use. However, it was weather damaged and I have replaced it. 2. Surveillance camera – What I “used” was among others belonging to the department and has been utilized for Santa’s Village for the talking snowman and an attempt to do aerials from the blimp. 3. Garage Fan – This was purchased by Judy and me for the swimming pool for air flow in the pump room. However, we discovered it was not practical to attempt to attach it to the ceiling due the structure. I ended up swapping it out with one I had at home which is a large “floor stand” type that would do the job. I even went so far as to compare prices to assure the two were comparable.
Although there have been statements to the effect I made several “personal” purchases, the only one noted by the state comptroller was the $89.98. Explanation: This just happened to be part of three orders placed at the same time to Heartland America. Two of the orders were for my department and one personal. I have records proving my order was paid with my personal credit card. Two items were inadvertently placed on one of the city orders. My notes show there was a question about this when the statement came in. I certainly realize “everything” is strictly in black and white to auditors. I had intended on clearing this out. To some it may appear I am making excuses; however, this particular transaction occurred within 11 days of my being told I had prostate cancer. The purchase involving the $89.98 was not reimbursed at the time. If you read or hear I have made restitution to the city, it isn’t for multiple questionable purchases, but rather for the $89.98.
As for support for cheerleaders over the span of two mayors now, I have no regrets nor have felt any wrongdoing on my part. I have considered myself and my department as a sponsor much like a community partner. I can show countless examples of personal expenditures to support the efforts of those young ladies and the accomplishments and recognition they have achieved for the City of Martin. According to the state comptroller, “These programs appear to be sponsored activities of the Weakley County School System, not the City of Martin.” How many of you would like to jump on this with both feet? I don’t think it would be very difficult to come with a “number” of examples of city-related sponsored activities for various athletic programs in Martin.
Another major concern of mine is the upcoming Cal Ripken World Series in August and my retirement set for June 30th. I’m sure a lot of folks may be wondering why I decided to retire placing myself in an awkward position for the biggest youth sporting event to ever come to this region. The simple fact is, due to what was referred to as a “glitz” in the retirement policy, the city administration changed the policy “back” to what was originally in effect in Feburary 2004. With this change, those (including myself) eligible for early retirement have until June 30 to do so and be able to maintain the city’s health insurance till Medicare age. Retirement after that date would result in loss of all those benefits. I have shared with several people that my intentions were to retire at the end of this calendar year, or at the latest, June 30, 2009 which would be in line with Judy’s planned retirement date. I would never have dreamed of retiring before something as monumental as the World Series.
So what’s the big deal with continuing after June 30? The city’s retirement is with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS). There are several very specific policies in place regarding a retiree working for a TCRS entity after their retirement date. First of all, in order for a retiree to work during the first 60 days following retirement, the city has to request a waiver explaining there isn’t anyone else qualified to continue in that particular position. Although this is doable, the retiree cannot work more than 50 percent of the schedule they had prior to retirement. In other words, only 20 hours a week; or, full time for the month of July, then no work in August. Any combination can be used so long as the 50 percent isn’t exceeded. Violation of TCRS policy could result in loss of retirement benefits. Several options have been discussed such as a contract, volunteering my time after the 20 hours etc., all of which are not allowed by TCRS.
In a conference call on Wednesday, May 14 involving myself, Mayor Brundige; Celeste Taylor, Human Resource Officer and Chris Mathis, City Recorder all of these options were discussed once again. For the third time that I have personally been in contact with TCRS (involving a different representative each time), the question was raised by the rep. as to whether or not I had considered changing my retirement date. Obviously, this is the ideal solution to allow me to “finish the job”. However, Board members are concerned about a precedence this could set for future retirement requests. I understand and respect their concern, but I contend this situation involves extenuating circumstances. This will meet the requirements of TCRS, won’t affect the health insurance, and would allow for me to see the World Series to its completion. Policies and procedures can become complex at times which is certainly what has occurred here.
Although I have looked forward to my retirement with much anticipation, my dedication to my parks and recreation career and commitments to so many with the World Series places me in a position where I have an intense desire to finish the job I have started. As for the issues regarding the audit questions, I leave it up to you, the public, to make your own judgments. As for the World Series, I can and do hope for the very best that will allow me to continue beyond June 30.
As we all know, there is usually two sides to a story. I appreciate the opportunity to share mine regarding these particular issues. In addition, I welcome ANY questions you may have. Feel free to call me on my cell at 234-4972 or I will be glad to sit down with you to discuss any questions or concerns.