By TOM McLAUGHLIN
315-4435 | @TomMnwfdn
DESTIN — The State Attorney’s Office has expanded its investigation of city credit card use to include everybody that has one.
The decision to open its investigation to include all 34 city employees was made Wednesday, after city officials requested an investigation into City Manager Greg Kisela using the card for a personal purchase.
“We intend it to include all members of city government who use that type of card,” said Bill Bishop, the chief assistant state attorney for Okaloosa County.
The call for an investigation of Kisela was the second in a week to come to the State Attorney’s Office from Destin.
On Oct. 20, Kisela handed a letter to City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell, notifying her that he had turned her city card purchase records over to authorities.
“I am advised of irregularities regarding the use of the City of Destin credit card issued to you for your use incident to City business,” the letter said. “By all appearances the use reported is personal in nature.”
Ramswell protested after receiving the letter that Kisela was singling her out for persecution.
She said Kisela was angered by objections she’d raised to recommended changes in the city’s comprehensive plan.
A public records request made following Kisela’s decision to report Ramswell revealed that the city manager had purchased baseball tickets with the city credit card.
He reimbursed the city and, in an email sent to council members following the revelation, called the purchase inadvertent.
Kisela, who is out of town this week, declined via email to answer questions about the city card controversy.
“Since this matter is under review by the State Attorney’s Office, I cannot comment,” Kisela said.
Destin Mayor Mel Ponder, one of the 34 in city government possessing a city credit card, welcomed the State Attorney’s Office investigation.
“If this is what they feel they need to do, I’m fine with that,” Ponder said. “At the end of the day, we need to do the right thing.”
Ponder, Ramswell and Councilwoman Sandy Trammell are the only elected officials with city credit cards.
City spokesman Doug Rainer said other council members chose not to have cards.
Records indicate that in September, Ponder also wrote a check to the city as reimbursement for charges to his Destin-issued credit card.
While he maintains that he did nothing wrong, Ponder did deviate once from the city policy dictating how meals are paid for on business trips.
Destin’s travel policy requires city elected officials to pay for meals out of pocket and receive reimbursement at a per diem rate upon their return. Ponder put three meals on the city card during a trip to Orlando.
Bishop said the State Attorney’s Office investigation will be “very thorough” and could last weeks “and maybe months.”
.Destin residents comments
That’s the kind of city manager only Okaloosa county would attract! He can’t tell his personal credit cards from the city’s????
Doesn’t say much for the Councilwoman either!
Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. When George Costanza is caught having sex on his desk at work, he asks in perfectly faked earnestness, “Was that wrong”?
Ohhhhh and Greg Kisela is a quite handsomely paid City Employee, while Councilmembers and the Mayor are elected volunteers.
By MATT ALGARIN
315-4462 | @DestinLogMatt
Posted Nov. 17, 2015 at 8:17 AM
Updated Nov 17, 2015 at 4:32 PM
Destin City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell was served with a cease and desist letter by local attorney Dana Matthews Nov. 4.
The letter, written by Matthews on behalf of his client Peter Bos, states that Ramswell has published defamatory material, “more specifically false allegations about my client and his business practices that have slandered his reputation and constitutes per se defamation.”
More specifically, the letter refers to an email Ramswell sent to City Manager Greg Kisela and Destin Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley, which in part was published in The Destin Log, as well as the Northwest Florida Daily News and on Ramswell’s personal website.
“You have made comments that propose to be statements of fact that are patently false,” the letter reads, citing very specific examples. “As a result of the statements, my client is prepared to seek all legal remedies available including filing a complaint seeking both compensatory and punitive damages as provided under Florida law.”
Matthews writes that he and Bos will abstain from filing the complaint against Ramswell if she meets two criteria: Within 10 days of the date on the letter, she sends a letter to The Destin Log and Northwest Florida Daily News retracting her “false statements,” as well as publishing a retraction on her personal website.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no letter of retraction was received by The Log.
The second criteria calls for Ramswell to cease and desist any further defamatory communications regarding Bos that in any way disparages him or his businesses by stating or publishing false statements.
For her part, Ramswell read from a prepared statement during Monday night’s Destin City Council meeting, where she had provided her colleagues a copy of Matthew’s letter.
With her voice cracking as she read, Ramswell called the letter a threat.
“Let me state for the record, I will not be bullied or threatened into not performing my public duties,” she said. “I won’t be bullied or threatened into shirking my job as a councilmember. Not by Mr. Bos, Mr. Matthews or anyone.”
Ramswell made a point to note she has appropriate documentation to support each of the points made in Matthew’s letter.
Given the threat of litigation, Ramswell inquired about the city providing her legal representation, which is available to any member of the city council through the city’s insurance provider.
“I was elected to serve in good faith and speak to the needs, wants and concerns of those who live and work here and whom voted me to be their voice,” Ramswell said. “I have a duty to do what’s right by them and will continue to do so, not just because it is my duty, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Ramswell has been very outspoken in recent months as it relates to a variety of issues along Holiday Isle, such as a portion of land known as Parcel B, which is owned by Bos and associates, as well as a hole allegedly caused by the Emerald Grande shuttle were a number of near drownings have been reported by residents. She has also spoken out about building heights on Holiday Isle as the city navigates its way through proposed changes to the comprehensive plan 2020.
Ramswell, as well as other officials with city-issued credit cards, are currently under investigation by the state attorney’s office for possible misuse of their city cards.
The 10-day window Matthews laid out in the letter to Ramswell expired Nov. 16.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Ramswell told The Log she would take advantage of the city’s legal counsel and would stick by what she said during Monday’s meeting.
Whether or not legal service is extended will be up to the city’s insurer, Kisela told The Log. He said a determination would be made based on the facts and allegations presented.