If you’ve ever gotten a ticket at a small town speed trap and suspected the money ended up in somebody’s pocket, you might have been right.
An audit obtained by Watchdog.org shows that a group of current and former officials in Huntington, Texas — population 2,118 — collected pay for thousands of hours they either didn’t work or weren’t supposed to. Even as they complained that the town’s coffers were running dry, they falsified traffic citation records to collect fines higher than those imposed by the court, according to court records.
One of those officials, former city secretary and treasurer Betsy Gregson, who was fired last year, announced last week she is running for mayor in the May election.
Gregson was one of four salaried officials who collected tens of thousands of dollars by cashing in months’ worth of vacation time and comp time year after year, despite city policy that capped those hours and established that they were only to be paid at retirement or termination.
The audit found nine salaried officials who collected unearned pay beyond their salaries, but the four who got the most money were the key figures at City Hall. These were Gregson, whose modest title belies her outsized influence; former City Administrator Bruce Milstead; Jack Carter, who signed the checks; and former Police Chief Steven Sifford, a hunting and fishing buddy of Milstead’s, until they had a falling out.
In all, the audit identified $165,293.43 paid to the nine employees above their salaries over five years. For a city with just more than a million dollars a year in annual revenue — 40 percent of that coming from traffic tickets — it’s a noticeable amount.
“We could have paved four miles of road with that,” said Councilman Frank Harris, who is running against Gregson for mayor.