In Depth: The Ethics Complaints Against Evelyn Hammond

January 31, 2009

Former Century Mayor Evelyn Hammond used her position to retaliate against Century Little League when that organization failed to hire her son as chief umpire,  according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

An administrative law judge also found that Hammond did not use her position to benefit her son, Eddie Hammond, in regard to his utility account.

For a complete story on the ethics commission recommendation, click here.

Here is a more in-depth look at the complaints there filed with the ethics commission by Ann Brooks, Nolan Wilson and Annie Savage.

The Little League

Century Little League was controlled by a board of directors during the time in question in the complaint against Hammond. Dabney Longhorne served as president of that board from 2001 to 2006. During that five year period, Century Little League operated the concession stand at the town-owned Showalter Park.

Longhorne met with Mayor Hammond in January 2004 and again in January 2005 to discuss generally the relationship between the town and the little league operation. To the extent the concession stand was discussed during these meetings, it was expected that the little league operation would run it and use the profits generated from it.

For a number of years prior to the 2006 season, Mayor Hammond’s son Eddie Hammond moonlighted as chief umpire of the Century Little League. He was paid $35.00 to $45.00 for each game and was paid from $2.00 to $4.50 as a booking fee for each umpire he arranged for the little league games. One of the umpires Eddie Hammond employed was his father, Ray Hammond.

In January 2006 while planning for the upcoming season, Mr. Langhorne and Eddie Hammond had a discussion. During that discussion Eddie Hammond suggested he could make more money umpiring elsewhere. He advised he could make more money umpiring in Brewton, Alabama, for example.

At the Century Little League Board meeting on Saturday, January 21, 2006, Eddie Hammond’s comments were relayed to the board. The board thereafter voted to hire someone else as chief umpire. When Eddie Hammond learned of this he became angry, according to the judge’s order.

These events were discussed in the Hammond household. On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, Eddie Hammond called Langhorne on his cellphone and expressed his anger and, moreover, suggested that retaliation was in the offing. Later that day, Ray Hammond, Eddie Hammond’s father, called Langhorne and left a message asking that his call be returned.

On February 6, 2006, Mayor Hammond, during the Century Town Council meeting, recommended that the town take over the concession stand at Showalter Park. She stated that she had already found someone to operate it and that the profits from it would help pay for the light bill at the park. She also made this recommendation because she was angry at Dabney Langhorne. She did not, however, reveal this to the Century Town Council.

No one from Century Little League had been informed that this action would be considered by the council, so no one spoke out against the recommendation. On a motion by councilmember Marie McMurray, the council unanimously approved Mayor Hammond’s recommendatin.

“It is concluded that her actions were motivated solely by a desire to avenge the failure of Century Little League to re-employ her son,” Hooper wrote in the court order.

The Utility Bills

As mayor, Hammond exercised authority over the town’s utility services, including gas, water and sewer services. Her son, Eddie Hammond, served as superintendent of the utility department during her term as mayor, a position he had held for about 20 years. Dorothy Sims, the mayor’s first cousin, served as Town Clerk and as immediate supervisor for Eddie Hammond.

Century’s utility bills are due on the tenth of each month, with a $5 late charge added on the fifteenth of the month and service can be disconnected on the twentieth ofthe month. But Sims would routinely mark some unpaid accounts to not be disconnected.

The judge’s order says Eddie Hammond and Robert Tims did not pay their utility bills for years, yet their accounts were marked with a “hold.” Eddie Hammond amassed a bill of $1,802.49 by October 2005 and Robert Tims grew his to $4,859.46 by October 2005, yet neither had their utility services terminated. “Nevertheless, Eddie Hammond did not hesitate to pull the plug on citizens in a less fortunate posture,” the order states.

Eddie Hammond and Robert Tims were long-time employees of Century. During the period 1969 to 2001, Ray Lawson was Town Clerk, and during his incumbency he permitted some town employees to pay their utilities through payroll deductions. Eddie Hammond and Robert Tims were beneficiaries of this plan.

Rather than have their utility bills deducted from their pay in an amount that reflected their actual bills, Town Clerk Lawson deducted a set amount each week. In the case of
Eddie Hammond, $20.00 was deducted each week. Eddie Hammond was never presented with a utility bill during this period. Robert Tims had $35.00 deducted each week.

The sum deducted was often insufficient to cover the cost of Eddie Hammond’s utility bill and by the time Town Clerk Lawson departed the position, Eddie Hammond owed several hundred dollars.

The mayor of Century from 2000-2004 was Bennie Barnes. In 2001, Town Clerk Lawson was replaced by Town Clerk Sims. Although it was easy to determine how much money Eddie Hammond and Robert Tims owed on their utility bills, Ms. Sims was unable to determine how much money had been withheld from their pay.

When Town Clerk Sims became the incumbent, she found the financial records of the town to be a “big mess,” and they remained that way for several years. The “mess” was created when Town Clerk Lawson left because he had bad feelings toward Mayor Barnes and the City Council and manifested these feelings by locking his computer and scrambling the town’s financial records.

Town Clerk Sims could not determine how much, if any, payroll had been applied to the utility bills of the two, and Hammond and Tims did not know either. They were the only two employees of Century in this position. Eddie Hammond was aware that some of the money deducted was paid as child support. The last payment made to his utility bill was July 9, 2001. By October 4, 2001, deductions from his paycheck had been discontinued. Mr. Tims’ deduction continued.

By 2004, following Mayor Hammond’s inauguration as mayor, Town Clerk Sims continued to have over-all responsibility as supervisor of utility services and continued carrying Tims and Eddie Hammond in the “hold” category.

The office procedure with regard to utility payments was that each month a printed list of delinquents was prepared by Assistant Clerk Kristina Wood. She gave the list directly to Town Clerk Sims who determined if a delinquent was to be awarded a “hold.” Mayor Hammond did not get involved in the decision to terminate or not terminate anyone’s utility services.

Mayor Hammond paid some of Eddie Hammond’s bills, other than his utility bills, because Mayor Hammond and Eddie Hammond did not want his former wives to get involved in his financial affairs. Mayor Hammond never saw Eddie Hammond’s utility bill and assumed that, because he worked for the city, he paid it at his job. She was aware that he had money taken from his paycheck because she had seen some of his pay stubs.

Eventually Mayor Hammond learned that Tims and Eddie Hammond were on the cut-off list and made inquiry to Town Clerk Sims. Mayor Hammond was informed about the payroll deductions yy Town Clerk Sims, who told her that the money to pay the charges was present, but that she could not determine how much money was available. As events unfolded, records were discovered indicating the amounts withheld from Tims and Eddie Hammond, but this occurred after Mayor Hammond paid Eddie Hammond’s bill.

In early 2006, some citizens took notice of the unseemly situation where Eddie Hammond, the person who routinely cut off peoples’ natural gas for failure to timely pay their utility bills, was himself avoiding his utility payment. His failure to pay was about to provide grist for the local journalist’s mill. Mayor Hammond soon learned that the local
media was about to publicize the situation.

That moment was when Mayor Hammond concluded that paying her son’s utility bill was “. . . the right thing to do.” Accordingly, she wrote a personal check for the amount of the bill, including late charges. This amount was $1,984.30. On March 21, 2006, she took the check to the clerk’s office and met with Assistant Clerk Christina Wood. Eddie Hammond was present.

Wood had a discussion with Mayor Hammond regarding the late charges. She had removed the late charges when Tims paid off his utility bill some time before March 2006 and she informed Mayor Hammond of this. Mayor Hammond told Assistant Clerk Wood to take the late charges off Eddie Hammond’s bill since they were removed from Tims’ bill. She believed her son should get the same consideration. Assistant Clerk Wood did as directed by pulling up Eddie Hammond’s account on the computer and deducting $245.00.

Mayor Hammond further asserted that the town continued to owe Eddie Hammond money from the deductions taken from his pay. She wrote a new check for $1,739.30 and gave it to Assistant Clerk Wood, and thereafter the account displayed a zero balance.

The greater weight of the evidence demonstrates, the judge’s order says, that Mayor Hammond believed that the town owed Eddie Hammond some amount of money, and at the time the transaction took place it is clear that Century’s accounts were in disarray to the extent it was difficult to determine what, if anything, the town owed Eddie Hammond. Her determination that her son should not pay late fees because a similarly situated employee did not pay late fees was not unreasonable.

The “policy” of allowing Eddie Hammond to avoid paying his utility bills was in place prior to Mayor Hammond’s election and continued without her intervention until the Spring of 2006. She did not intervene in the case of Robert Tims or others who were not keeping up with their utility bills either. Even though she had 28 years of utility billing experience, she was remarkably incurious with regard to the situation in the Town of Century. This is not, however, the same as wrong-doing, the judge’s order says.


One Response to “In Depth: The Ethics Complaints Against Evelyn Hammond”

  1. chuck on January 31st, 2009 7:17 pm

    I’d have to agree with this,but Lawson should have been arrested for vandalism and then sued in civil court over lost revenues due to his childish if not criminal acts. Still,all in all, E. Hammond should be ashamed because the ones that suffered were the little league kids that were affected by this.