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July 28, 2013

Good Hope gift card tab reaches $3,000

GOOD HOPE — Nearly $3,000 in gift cards to various retailers and restaurants have been purchased with Good Hope’s city funds and were recently discovered following the city clerk’s resignation.

This week, Mayor Corey Harbison turned over a year’s worth of purchase receipts on the city’s Lowe’s charge account after The Cullman Times requested records. All receipts for the gift cards had the signature of former City Clerk Lisa Dahlke who resigned July 17 following a closed-door executive session with the Good Hope City Council. Dahlke claims her resignation was the result of an affair between she and Harbison, whom are both married. Dahlke served as city clerk for three years.

Harbison said he and City Attorney Rita Nicholas have filed an official complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission to investigate the charges to the Lowe’s account. An ethics violation, which is forbidden under state law, occurs when a public official or employee who uses his or her position to benefit themselves individually or their family.

“Due to the state ethics commission being involved in possible criminal acts by the city clerk, I’m not going to comment at this time,” Harbison said of Dahlke’s allegation of an affair. “We’re not saying 100 percent that they are her signatures on the receipts. They appear to be hers, but it could be someone falsely representing her.”

Records show gift cards were purchased between Dec. 26, 2012 and July 6 and totaled $2,965. Among the cards purchased were 20 gift cards for Belk, worth a combined $900, and 14 for T. J. Maxx worth a combined $675.

All purchases made by employees with the Good Hope street and parks departments appear to be for materials related to legitimate maintenance, the records show. The Times is seeking financial records for the Lowe’s account dating back two years, but Harbison said he could only access the past year’s receipts.

Harbison said the city clerk is responsible for paying city bills and that he often ‘doesn’t see payments even though his name is stamped on them.’ The city council reviews financial statements monthly. 

“My policy is to follow up on anything that is brought to my attention,” Harbison said.

Once a complaint is filed with the ethics commission, an investigator is assigned and all information gleaned from the inquiry is turned over to the commission, said Hugh Evans III, general counsel for the organization.

“If the commission finds probable cause, then the case is turned over to either the Attorney General or district attorney in that jurisdiction,” Evans said. “We can’t comment at this time whether or not we’re investigating a specific complaint.”

Attempts by The Times to reach Dahlke for comment were not successful.

* Tiffeny Owens can be reached at towens@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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