Gretna City Administrator Colleen Lawry used senior funds to buy gas and groceries, the city attorney said Wednesday.
Attorney John Green said officials learned Tuesday that Lawry spent about $800 from the Gretna Senior Citizen Fund between late February and the end of March.
The money has been repaid, he said, but Lawry was not authorized to use the fund for anything but the weekly senior citizen meetings in the basement of City Hall.
City officials learned about the purchases during an executive session at the weekly City Council meeting, Green said. The council decided during that session to fire Lawry, he said.
After the council meeting, Green and Mayor Sally McGuire fired Lawry at City Hall.
Before Lawry left City Hall, she was arrested by Sarpy County deputies on suspicion of theft of between $500 and $1,500.
A Sarpy County judge determined Wednesday there was probable cause to hold Lawry. The Sarpy County Attorney's Office expected to file charges Thursday.
Green said one of the seniors who attends the weekly meetings in City Hall brought the situation to the attention of Councilman Doug Clark. The funds are used to provide lunch for the senior citizens, Green said.
Green said the city has taken Lawry's name off all its financial accounts and changed the accounts' access codes. The city has also retrieved the car issued to Lawry and other city property.
“It was brought to the city's attention that (Lawry) had been using the fund for personal purchases between late February and the end of March,” Green said. “Purchases on the fund's debit card were made at the gas station, grocery store and that kind of thing.”
Green said McGuire will assume Lawry's duties until another administrator can be hired. Lawry began working for Gretna as an assistant clerk in 2004. She was later promoted to city clerk and was named city administrator in 2010.
“The city will continue to investigate all of (Lawry's) financial dealings,” Green said. “We intend to conduct a thorough review.”
Lawry was paid an annual base salary of just more than $90,000.
Green said the firing was unrelated to a state audit issued Friday.
State Auditor Mike Foley reported that Lawry had used a city credit card for personal purchases, appeared to have bought gasoline for herself on the city's dime and hired her daughter.
The audit recommended new rules for financial oversight. The City Council adopted such rules Tuesday.
Under the new rules, the city will prohibit employees from using credit cards for personal expenses, even if the city is reimbursed, and will adopt a more rigid procedure on receipts for legitimate expenses.
Foley's audit did not address the Gretna Senior Citizen Fund.
He did report that Lawry charged $5,074.47 in personal purchases on a city credit card, which she repaid up to 46 days later. The delay created what Foley described as “an interest-free loan from the city.”
Lawry also spent more than $800 on clothing that she classified as “uniforms,” Foley reported. The purchases were from stores that are not uniform shops, and Lawry was not required to wear a uniform.
Lawry took at least 11 trips outside the state last year and early this year, racking up $13,578 in city-paid expenses. The travel many of the trips were billed as economic development research was not formally approved by the council.
In late October, Lawry reported that she bought 18.916 gallons of gas for her city vehicle, which has a capacity of 16.9 gallons.
Foley's audit, which examined city finances from October 2010 to January 2012, also reviewed spending last May during the International Council of Shopping Centers' Global Retail Real Estate Convention in Las Vegas.
McGuire and Lawry spent $260 in city funds for tickets to a stage performance of “The Lion King” but didn't make that clear on an expense form they submitted to the council.
McGuire has said the tickets were an appropriate expense because she did not want the city to become “indebted” to prospective retailers for the city's Nebraska Crossing outlet mall.
In a statement issued following the report's release, McGuire appeared to defend Lawry's travel.
"The city administrator should not be tied behind a desk all day, but rather doing those tasks which a city administrator does,” McGuire wrote, listing a series of economic development efforts.
A request for comment Wednesday from McGuire was referred to the city attorney.
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