A recent audit of the City of Westlake’s finances revealed improper use of city vehicles, improper department head appointments by the mayor and a city vehicle being improperly equipped with emergency blue lights.
The audit by the state legislative auditor’s office states that Westlake Mayor Dan Cupit had been using a city vehicle for personal use without city council approval; city vehicles weren’t properly marked in accordance with state law, and that Cupit appointed the city’s chief administrative officer and director of finance without council approval.
According to the audit, Cupit used a city vehicle from 2007-2012 for personal purposes. These include attending monthly Sabine River Authority meetings in Many, traveling to his camp in Many and traveling to a Texas hospital. The document states that Cupit did not reimburse the city for these personal trips.
City payroll records also show that $15 per week of additional income was added to Cupit’s salary for him to report his estimated personal use of the city vehicle.
“...Cupit did not maintain records of his business and personal use of the city vehicle; the city cannot demonstrate that the $15 additional income per week is appropriate,” the audit states.
The audit goes on to say that since the council did not authorize Cupit’s personal use of the vehicle that he “may have violated state law.”
The state auditor’s office report recommended that Cupit “seek legal advice as to the appropriate actions to be taken, including recovering funds related to the unauthorized use of a city vehicle and fuel purchased for the vehicle.”
In Cupit’s response to the state auditor’s investigation, he said “I will now use my personal vehicle to attend all SRA meetings ... also mileage log sheets for city vehicles are being prepared for use.”
He also said that the vehicle was “not used for personal vacations or pleasure.”
City vehicles used by Cupit, Lonnie Smart and Jimmy Ashworth were also not marked in accordance with state law, which could be subject to fines not less than $25 nor more than $50 for each violation — each day the vehicles were unmarked could be considered a separate offense, the audit said.
Cupit said in the report that three of the city’s 61 vehicles were marked with magnetic decals, but after determining that the magnetic decals didn’t comply with state law, permanent decals were put on the three vehicles, which is in compliance with state laws.
Cupit also violated state law, according to the audit, by having blue emergency lights put on his city vehicle.
According to state law, no person other than law enforcement officers and officials are to operate vehicles with blue electric lights.
The audit states that Cupit said he “had the lights installed on his car because during some of the storms, he was not allowed to drive his vehicle through some places in the city.” The report goes on to say that the city’s paid invoice for the lights shows that they were installed on the vehicle about three years after Hurricane Ike, the area’s last major storm.
He said the lights were put on his vehicle to allow him access to other emergency situations such as gas or sewer blowouts, water main breaks, fires or accidents.
“As mayor I felt it is my responsibility to show support and concern to our city workers,” he said.
Cupit said that the lights were “immediately removed from the mayor’s vehicle, and returned to the city inventory for future use.”
Cupit also violated the Lawrason Act by appointing two department heads without council approval, the audit said.
According to city records and council minutes, Cupit hired Lonnie Smart in December 2009 as director of finance without council approval and a year later. promoted Smart to chief administrative officer. In December 2010, he also appointed Jimmy Ashworth as the city’s finance director.
“The city’s organization chart portrays and Mayor Cupit confirmed, that the CAO and the director of finance are both department head positions,” the audit states. “However, Mayor Cupit stated that he only needs council approval for hiring and firing of the city clerk and the director of public works.”
Cupit said in his response to the investigations findings, that as of Nov. 1, the city no longer has a CAO and Ashworth is now the city accountant. Cupit also said that Smart was “reassigned to another city position within the general and administration department and has no supervisory responsibility.”
Cupit said all the recommendations the city received by the state auditor’s office have been completed or will be completed.