Former Oak Park Employee Investigated Over Missing Funds
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 14, 2015)
A former Oak Park employee is under investigation for possibly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city over the course of about two years. The investigation by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department is ongoing, so the employee’s name and the amount in question have not officially been made public. However in the close-knit community changes in personnel are noticed and word travels fast.
The oc115 has confirmed that Stephanie Sumner, Former Deputy Clerk, was fired in March without notice or compensation, and is very likely the person being investigated.
City Manager Erik Tungate released an official statement Monday, stating:
You may have seen or read a news report announcing that a former employee of the City of Oak Park is under investigation for inappropriate handling of City funds. Generally, it is our policy not to comment on items that are under current investigation as it may jeopardize the ongoing case. However, due to the media attention and resident inquiries, and in the interest of transparent and responsive governing, I can make the following statement at this time:
September 14, 2015, Oak Park, Michigan – The subject matter at hand is currently under investigation and the person of interest has not yet been formally charged. This limits our ability to disclose details. At this time, I can disclose that the person of interest was promptly terminated from employment after an internal investigation determined there were grounds for termination. Any and all funds lost have been returned to the City through appropriate insurance coverage. The matter has been handed to the Oakland County Sheriff where it remains under active investigation. At this time, I would like to assure the residents and business owners of Oak Park that the City takes great pride in maintaining extremely strict financial management policies and practices. After the discovery of this matter the City’s policies and procedures underwent additional review and scrutiny. As a result, I instituted additional safeguards to protect against situations like this from happening in the future. Oak Park is a financially sound community.
In fact, the City of Oak Park was recently awarded – for the 21st consecutive year – the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, or CAFR, for its comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. The CAFR is issued by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada and is considered one of the most prestigious awards within government for having the highest level of excellence in financial management and reporting. In order to be awarded a CAFR, an impartial panel of individuals with expertise in public sector financial reporting review submissions for evidence that the government entity goes beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles to prepare a comprehensive annual financial report that provides the spirit of transparency and full disclosure. In addition, this past week Standard & Poor’s revised the City’s debt credit rating to an A+ positive from an A+ stable rating. In their report, S&P rated the City of Oak Park as having adequate economy, strong management, strong budgetary performance, very strong budgetary flexibility, very strong liquidity, very weak debt and contingent liability profile, and a strong institutional framework.
The City of Oak Park is a responsible, financially stable and growing community. While unfortunate incidents such as this happen in both the public and private sectors, the City of Oak Park will not tolerate inappropriate behavior in City operations as evidenced by the swift and decisive handling of this matter. Be assured, the City is protecting its funds and is in the strongest financial position it has been in for several years.
We will provide further updates at the appropriate time. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
In an interview with oc115, Tungate spoke in more detail about what the City does to prevent embezzlement in general. He stated that all checks over $1,000 need to be signed by the City Manager before being issued. He also stated that one of the first things he did when he came on as City Manager in 2013 was clean up hiring procedures.
“When I came here, there was not an HR [Human Resources] function. I started that process right away. We now do background checks on people. We call former employers. We do reference checks, drug screenings. Hiring the best employees and giving them the support they need is essential to a well-run city,” Tungate said. He could not reveal the employees name or give details of her hiring.
While the theft is an eyesore for the City, and his administration, Tungate was pleased that once the embezzlement came to light “it was handled professionally and quickly. We brought in the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department so there could be no doubt that the matter was thoroughly investigated by third party, objective eyes.”
He also confirmed that the City’s fraud insurance covered the entire amount of missing funds. Tungate could not speak about the dollar amount because of the investigation. He could not confirm or deny the rumor that the amount is in excess of $400,000. However he did say that the amount of the claim was “pretty high.”
Mayor Marian McClellan shared her sentiment on Facebook after the story came to light. Without revealing the employee’s name, McClellan wrote “This employee won everyone’s trust by going above and beyond expectations for her job. Then she betrayed all of us. It’s heartbreaking for all involved. Choices have consequences.”
Sumner came to the City of Oak Park in 2012 after a long career as an Executive Assistant in The City of Pontiac. She worked in Pontiac from 1993-2011 when she was once of several employees who lost their jobs when the City was taken over by a State-appointed Emergency Financial Manager.
Note that all suspects are innocent until proven guilty, and that Sumner has not been charged with a crime at time of publishing. Please check back for updates on this story as it develops.
Former Oak Park Employee Investigated Over Missing Funds