Veteran Chapin town clerk Adrienne Thompson is suspended after new Mayor Skip Wilson said Sunday that an investigation is under way into alleged misuse of public money under her control.
Wilson offered few details other than to say that unidentified “proper investigative authorities” have been notified of financial irregularities he found.
His claims are rocking the northern Lexington County community of 1,700 residents, where Thompson is regarded as Town Hall’s unofficial grandmother.
“It’s a total bombshell,” Town Councilwoman Bibi Atkins said.
The alleged problems were discovered, Wilson said in a statement, when he began reviewing town finances in preparation for taking office as the community’s first new mayor in 32 years.
“As the review process progressed, the number of irregularities and violations in recording transactions, financial reporting and excessive and unauthorized spending led him to initiate a more detailed investigation,” it continued.
Part of the problem, the statement said, is that former Mayor Stan Shealy allegedly authorized Thompson “to hand out town funds as personal loans” to unspecified persons.
Shealy could not be reached for comment and Wilson could not be reached for further comment.
Wilson’s allegations of financial irregularities follow years of audits that didn’t report such problems, some town leaders said.
Thompson, reached Sunday night, said the expenses that Wilson questions are related to furnishing and equipping the new Town Hall that opened in December.
“That was a job entrusted to me” and all costs were reviewed and approved by town leaders before proceeding with purchases, she said.
“It’s a witch hunt after me,” she said.
Thompson, town clerk for 13 years, is suspended with pay.
In a letter March 4 to Town Council members, Thompson said Wilson demanded she quit or be embarrassed even before he took office Jan. 7. “He requested I take early retirement and advised if I would not leave early, he would run me out,” her letter said. “I could leave gracefully or be disgraced out.”
One Town Council member called Wilson’s claims unbelievable, saying it’s his latest move “tormenting” Thompson.
“I don’t believe Stan Shealy or Adrienne Thompson did anything he (Wilson) is saying,” Councilwoman Kay Hollis said. “Stan Shealy and Adrienne Thompson are as honest as anybody can be.”
Part of the problem, Hollis said, may be that town leaders under Shealy’s leadership authorized Thompson to purchase chairs and other items on her personal credit card to assure the new Town Hall was fully equipped when it debuted in December.
Wilson has delayed repaying more than $4,200 to Thompson for those items, some council members said.
In addition, he put a halt to a petty cash fund used for small purchases such as postage, batteries and coffee. Thompson reported on use of the money monthly to town leaders.
Her suspension came on the eve of Thompson’s 50th wedding anniversary, friends said.
Wilson also said Thompson could face charges of ethics violations and nepotism, but offered no details.
Thompson said her son’s landscape service was occasionally called for some cleanup tasks by other town leaders without her involvement.
The suspension is the latest turn in a power struggle among Wilson and some town leaders over changes he wants to make at Town Hall.
Those changes, he says, were authorized when voters elected him Nov. 5.
But Atkins, Hollis and Councilman Robbie Frick are challenging his efforts, saying he is trying to impose changes singlehandedly without regard as to whether they are permissible and require council assent.
Thompson defied a demand from Wilson in mid-April to stop publicizing meetings of the council members who are seeking to trim his influence over town operations through decisions in session that he says are improper.
Her suspension may end that tactic since Wilson likely would assign that job to someone who will abide by his view.
Wilson called her insubordinate then, but she is caught in the middle of conflict.
That disagreement is “totally unrelated” to her suspension, Wilson’s statement said.
His decision also could sidetrack – at least temporarily – discussion in the town of exploring ways to oust him from office or make other changes reducing his clout as mayor.