Report: Waxhaw mayor violated town policy

WAXHAW – Leaders in Waxhaw have suspended Mayor Daune Gardner’s reimbursement privileges after an investigation following her recent DWI arrest showed the mayor had included alcohol purchases on past expense reports.

Gardner was arrested on charges of driving while impaired and driving left of center last week after a blood test showed she had a blood alcohol level of .18.  The legal limit to drive is .08.  This is the second time Gardner has been accused of driving while impaired while in office.

Commissioner Mike Stewart led the push at the town’s June 11 board meeting to begin an audit of the mayor’s credit card and other expenses and to suspend her credit card privileges during the course of the investigation.

The town’s March 2009 travel policy states Waxhaw will not reimburse any commissioner or mayor for local travel, meals that exceed $45 per day or alcohol purchases. Detailed receipts must be included with all expense reports turned in.

Waxhaw’s investigation has shown Gardner violated the town’s travel policy and reimbursement proceedings multiple times – namely that the mayor has sought reimbursement on three occasions for purchases that included alcohol. Gardner also sought reimbursement for local travel, according to the report.

“Due to the violations of our ethics policy that are in line with the recent attraction the mayor has incurred and violations to our travel policy and expense policy, I would like to make a motion to suspend the mayor’s due and subscriptions and the travel line item, as well,” Stewart said.  The line items total up to $6,500 in reimbursable expenses.

Commissioners voted unanimously to suspend Gardner’s travel expenses reimbursement privileges until they see the final results of the investigation.

“The action that was taken this evening and the discussion that surrounded it was in relation to two line items in regards to the mayor’s travel expenses,” Mayor Pro Tem Erin Kirkpatrick said.  “The board recently found out … that there were sufficient incidents to suspend those two line items pending the official investigation.”
Commissioners will begin discussing the possibly of censuring the mayor during their Tuesday, June 25, meeting.  The censure process is a formal reprimand from a government body that serves as little more than an embarrassing slap on the wrist but carries no loss of power or authority.  The elected officials in the town cannot remove mayors in North Carolina from office, though Commissioner Joyce Blythe asked the mayor to step down due to the DWI allegation and spending investigation findings.

“We can no longer tolerate your reckless actions, and I speak for myself, I am not speaking for this board,” Blythe said.  “And how is the board to explain to others in the workforce who are arrested for drunk driving or arrested for other things who no longer have jobs, and yet you don’t lose yours? … We didn’t hire you, and we can’t fire you.”

Despite the arrest and discussions from the board, Gardner has made no comments suggesting she is considering stepping down from office.

“(I have received) an untold amount of support from people who have generous hearts,” she said. “… Private struggles do not prevent public success.”

Gardner is scheduled to appear in the Union County District Court on Aug. 15 for the recent charges. Gardner also was arrested in September 2008 in Lancaster County, S.C., for driving under the influence, but the charges were later expunged from her record, she said.

This is the mayor’s second term in office, which runs out in 2015.

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