BOYCE — Town Council members on Tuesday directed Mayor Richard Kibler to return one of various items he bought for the town with a debit card, asserting he didn’t have authority to make the purchases.
The purchases may have been illegal, at least one council member believes, based on comments in an email from David Griffin, the town’s part-time attorney.
However, town Recorder Ruth Hayes said council members believe the mayor didn’t realize he wasn’t authorized to make the purchases, and they and Griffin have been striving to help him discern his role within town government.
“I think he truly didn’t understand what his role as the mayor is,” Hayes said. “He didn’t know what his authority really, truly is.”
Five of Boyce’s eight current officials — the exceptions being Hayes and council members Carol Everly and Dennis Hall — have assumed their duties since January. Hayes, whose recorder duties are similar to those of a vice mayor, said all the newcomers are trying to learn their duties and limitations under Virginia’s local government laws. She said they were hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which basically shuttered town operations for a while.
Kibler, a political newcomer, was elected mayor on Nov. 5 and assumed that role at the start of 2020. He didn’t return calls made to his cellphone for comment.
In a 5-1 vote, the council directed Kibler to return a $399 credit card processing machine he bought with the debit card. The town doesn’t accept card transactions for payment of taxes and other bills. Council members indicated they think the town doesn’t need to start doing so.
“Don’t you think the council needs to get updated to the (modern) times?” asked Kibler, the lone nay vote.
“No,” responded Hall. “This is a teeny-tiny town.” Boyce’s population is approximately 600.
Only two residents have expressed interest in paying their bills with a credit card, officials said to their knowledge.
Other purchases included a video monitor, a “sandwich board” on which messages can be posted outside the town hall, a body camera for the code enforcement officer, and “stop” and “children at play” signs, costs for which were not detailed. Hayes said the council has not directed Kibler to return those items.
The council voted 4-2 to revoke two debit cards that Hayes said Kibler got from the local bank — one of which he used to make the purchases — and instead obtain a credit card for the town manager’s use. The manager is the town’s only authorized purchasing agent.
Town Manager David Winsatt recently was hired by the council after Hayes resigned from the part-time position last winter. Hayes served a dual role: Voters initially elected her recorder, and later the council hired her to be town manager. She resigned as manager after accepting another job. She will continue serving as recorder until her elected term ends in December 2021.
During the months in which there was no manager, Kibler basically oversaw town matters himself. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the closing of the town hall on East Church Street for weeks. At least two monthly council meetings were cancelled, resulting in matters that the panel oversees being postponed.
“The council didn’t have control over anything” during that period, Hayes said, because it made no decisions since it didn’t meet.
Kibler obtained the debit card he used on his own, Hayes said. The council never authorized the card, she said.
Hayes and Kibler were the dissenters in the vote concerning the cards. Hayes told the council she thought a debit card should be issued for the manager. But in a phone interview after the meeting, she said she has given the issue more thought and now believes “a credit card is probably the better way” to go.
Receiving credit card bills will enable the council to better monitor spending, members indicated.
A card only should be used when it’s not possible to buy something another way, Hayes said. Examples she mentioned include emergencies, online purchases or spending with businesses requiring a type of payment other than an invoice payment.
The votes were taken after Hayes, reading prepared remarks, raised concerns about Kibler’s spending near the end of the meeting. The item was not on the agenda for discussion.
In an email to The Winchester Star after the meeting, Hayes wrote that Kibler “presumed he could use a debit card since his signature and the town treasurer’s (signature) must be on all checks written for payment by the town.”
But until recently, the town didn’t have a treasurer, either. The council has hired Tammy Blake for that part-time job.
Hayes’ duties as town manager involved her also serving as treasurer. After she resigned as manager, Kibler announced the council would separate those duties and hire both a treasurer and a manager because that is preferred for localities under state code.
One of the debit cards was for Blake, who didn’t want it. The card has been placed in locked storage, officials said.
“We now have debit cards that the mayor got from the bank. If we need two signatures as authorization to spend, how are the debit cards acceptable?” Hayes asked Griffin in an email.
Griffin’s response, according to Hayes, was, “Without two signatures in advance there is no authorization, and the spending would be illegal. After-the-fact authorization is a violation of fiscal law and governance. The town is not so large as to make getting the advance authorization (difficult). If the mayor and council feel differently, they can change the ordinances and policies but until they do so, they must comply with existing authorization procedures.”
Hayes said Griffin emailed the response to Kibler as well as herself.
In her email to the Star, Hayes wrote that Kibler bought the credit card machine after discussing it with council members earlier this year, but the council didn’t vote to authorize the purchase.
Kibler told council members he thought he had their authorization to make the purchases, based on his discussions with them.
“There were purchases made by the mayor from January until June without the TC’s (town council’s) knowledge or authorization,” Hayes wrote.
The council is not considering taking disciplinary measures against Kibler or asking him to resign, Hayes said. “The town council wants to work with him.”