VERNON -- Vernon City Council is pursuing a state investigation after its former City Clerk sued the City for unemployment.
At a special meeting Thursday evening, council member Gwen March motioned the council appeal a determination from Department of Equal Opportunity that approved unemployment benefits for former City Clerk Michelle Cook.
"I make a motion that we ... not to pay our former clerk unemployment based on the reason that she left, the resignation," March said, moments later adding, "Leading up to this, to pay the unemployment, we need to let them know the real reason that she was let go. I know she resigned, but she was let go too."
Although March failed to clarify during the discussion "the real reason" for Cook's resignation, the other council members present, chairman Gary Owens and council member Kalan Miller voted in favor of the motion. Mayor Tina Sloan was present, however, her seat is a non-voting seat.
According to sources, Cook allegedly embezzled the City out of one dollar per hour for each hour she worked during a given period of time she operated as City Clerk.
Washington County News submitted a public records request for payroll records. At the meeting, Mayor Tina Sloan said, despite the fact that Cook officially resigned from the City on Jan.5, DEO supports Cook's demand for unemployment because "she turned in a resignation on the knowledge or fact that she was getting another job and so that was a viable reason for her to turn in her resignation to us."
Sloan confirmed Friday morning that the City asked Cook to resign.
"In order for us to be able to dispute her resignation being valid, we're going to have to go forward and make it a public record to DEO as to why she was given the opportunity to turn in her resignation," Sloan said.
Calls to reach Cook for comment were unsuccessful Friday morning.
After the council ambiguously discussed grounds to appeal the DEO's notice, March motioned the council pursue an investigation by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) into discrepancies in payroll and unauthorized credit card charges.
Miller second it and the motion was passed unanimously.
"The goal is to have the investigation done, find out if there's any wrong doing," Sloan said Friday. "If there is any wrong doing, we'll find out the depth of it and we'll get the matter resolved."
She added, "This was not an easy decision for the council to make. The council has really struggled in how to proceed in the best light for our City."
For months the council had suspected the former City Clerk had been mismanaging the City's money, Sloan said, noting Thursday's decision to investigate payroll records was something the council was already looking into before Cook filed for unemployment.
Also at the meeting, the council unanimously voted to approve the discontinuation of sludge acceptance for the foreseeable future. Sludge is by-product produced during sewage treatment of wastewater. Apparently, the equipment has become overwhelmed by processing too much of it. The City received a notice from Florida Department of Environmental Protections to fix the equipment and properly handle clean up.
March made a motion that City of Vernon no longer "accept anymore sludge, forever."
"We have to look out for the city and we can process our own stuff before we can take anybody else's," Sloan said. "And with the break down, we can't do that."
The unanimous vote ended month-to-month agreements to accept sludge from three vendors. The City contracted with the vendors since June last year.
Vernon City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of the month at City Hall, 2808 Yellow Jacket Dr.