Attorney Says It's Illegal To Use City Dollars On Charity Group PDF Print E-mail
News - Local News
Thursday, 11 January 2018 15:18
Summerville has illegally supported the Santa in Uniform charity for years, according to officials.
It's illegal for a municipality to donate money to private and non-profit organizations, according to City Attorney Albert Palmour.
The city was allowing the Santa in Uniform charity to use the Summerville Recreation Center for an annual basketball fundraiser. Traditionally, the city allowed the charity to use the facility for free.
The city stopped paying for the referees and scorekeepers in December after the attorney notified the mayor about the illegal practice.
"The non-profit organization is separate from the city and I don't think we need to be paying for referees for any organizations that do have tournaments. I understand in the past we have done that and things kind of slipped to that point," Mayor Harry Harvey told the city council Monday night.
The decision to stop paying referees came abruptly and without warning, according to Summerville Police Chief Stan Mosley.
"We understand where it is coming from. We understand what the attorney is saying. The only thing. . . it came mid-tournament. But other than that, we are fine," Chief Mosley said.
"What I can't understand is why did it come up then?" Councilman Buddy Windle asked the other councilmen and city officials.
Windle never got a reply.
Three days into a weeklong basketball tournament, the mayor visited and informed Fire Chief Robbie Lathem that the city will not pay for two scorekeepers and nine referees.
The charity used a portion of its profit to pay $1,848 for the referees and scorekeepers.
"I don’t think the city should be paying for the referees for any tournament unless we are sponsoring them and we are getting the funds from the sponsorship," Mayor Harvey said. 
"Why after 20 years is that a problem," Windle asked.
"It is a problem after 20 years because when it first started it was a City of Summerville tournament. It has become a Santa in Uniform tournament," the mayor said. "I personally was not aware and I think some others were not aware that this was happening. . . We don't need to be paying for referees for sponsoring other organization."
"We could give them a donation, can't we?" Windle asked.
"Actually mayor, what it is, we are prohibited from using public funds for a private enterprise," Atty. Palmour said. "I recommend that you do not, because if you did you might violate state law. . . "
"Why did it not come up 20 years ago?" Windle asked.
"And, why did they wait until the middle of the tournament before anything was said," Councilman David Ford said.
"As far as that is concerned, 20 years ago we should not have been doing that. . ." Mayor Harvey said. "No one asked. They should have been told. But no one asked until the middle of the tournament."
Councilman Earl Parris apologized to Recreation Director Bo Chamlee for giving him such short notice.
"As a council member on this table and employer to you, I apologized by what direction and how that was handled at the game. We put you in a precarious situation. I apologize from my standpoint. I hate that you had to receive it in that fashion and it's an embarrassing situation," Parris said.
"That is fine if you want to apologize. That should have been taken care of before the tournament," the mayor said.
"My problem still is that after all these years they've had the tournament, they never had to go talk to anybody about it. Then all the sudden it was their fault that they did not talk to anybody. Explain that to me," Ford said.
"I'm not going to try to explain that portion of that," Harvey said. "I'm not saying it wasn't handled right."
"I feel like we should reimburse them," Ford said.
"That's going against the advice of the city attorney and some of them others," the mayor said.
"What is the consequence, Albert?" Ford asked.
"You would be personally responsible for it, if somebody filed suit," Atty. Palmour said.
"Can't we donate?" Windle said.
"Even if council voted on it?" Windle replied.
"That would be use of public funds for a private enterprise," Palmour said.
"My question is why hasn't this come up before? We've got one person in this city that tries to get rid of everything that the fire department started," Windle said.
"That has nothing to do with this," the mayor said.
"Yeah it has a lot to do with it," someone muttered. 
"No it does not," the mayor responded.
"It's a legal question Mr. Windle. You can't use public funds for any private use," Palmour said.
"Why after all these years, why did it come up now?" Windle replied.
"Because we let it slip. We should not have," the mayor said.
The Santa in Uniform program sponsors $100 shopping sprees for less fortunate Chattooga County children at Christmas. Local cops and firemen used to operate the program at Summerville City Hall until a clerk discovered money was missing.
A GBI investigation started in October to discover where the thousands in donations went. That revelation of missing funds almost killed the program. Cops and firemen, however, vowed they would not disappoint the children at Christmas time and decided to keep the program.

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