VERNON - City of Vernon has initiated a complaint with the state to investigate former City Clerk's payroll discrepancies and unauthorized usage of City credit cards.
City of Vernon has initiated a complaint with Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but have not received a response, according to officials.
Pay stubs of former Vernon City Clerk Michelle Cook from Oct. 1, 2014 to Dec. 18, 2017 show a missing hourly rate at the start of her time with City of Vernon to $12.50 an hour starting Feb. 6, 2015, ending at $16.87. However, throughout her tenure, her hourly rate fluctuated -- as high as $17.50 during some pay cycles.
City officials say the City-approved hourly rate for the City Clerk position at the time of Cook's resignation was $15.87.
It was not immediately clear how Cook misused the City's credit cards; however, sources say she allegedly made unauthorized personal purchases.
Cook's attorney, Lisa Anderson of Lisa Anderson Law in Panama City, states allegations against Cook are false.
"As is standard in these matters, I can not allow my client to make any comments while there is an ongoing investigation," said Anderson. "Michelle Cook has committed no criminal wrongdoing. She has been a faithful community servant for many years and any allegations of criminal wrongdoing by her are patently false. We look forward to the conclusion of the investigation, which we are confident will exonerate her."
The move to investigate came after Cook filed for unemployment benefits after resigning from the City on Dec. 6, with city council approval on Dec. 7 at a special meeting.
According to Mayor Tina Sloan, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) accepted Cook's request for benefits because she resigned with "knowledge of fact that she was getting another job." The City voted to appeal DEO's decision and to pursue an investigation, claiming she was asked to resign because of suspicion of embezzlement.
"This was not an easy decision for the council to make," Sloan said following a council meeting earlier this month at which the council moved to request the state investigation. "The council has really struggled in how to proceed in the best light for our City."