Council begins investigation of mayor

Review of mayor’s use of credit card follows DWI arrest
Jun. 20, 2013 @ 04:27 PM

Waxhaw Mayor Daune Gardner faces an investigation into ethics and policy violations and censure for a DWI arrest after a vote by the Waxhaw Town Commission Tuesday.

During the June 18 meeting, the commission voted to begin the censure process. It also began an internal investigation into possible financial and ethical violations by Gardner.

She was arrested on June 10 by a Waxhaw Police officer. According to the arrest report, Gardner’s blood alcohol level was .18, more than twice the legal limit.

Commissioner Michael Stewart called for an official censure of the mayor during the June 11 meeting, revocation of her town credit card and an audit into her use of that card.

Commissioners said it appears that Gardner regularly violated the town’s credit card policy many times by not submitting receipts for her purchases. She also sought reimbursement for local travel which violates the town travel police. She paid for alcohol with the town credit card at least once in violation of the town policy, and the investigation will look for other instances. There is some evidence that Gardner also used her position as mayor for her own personal gain.

Stewart would not say much about the audit because not all information is yet available. Though the audit and censure come on the heels of the mayor’s arrest, Stewart said the audit is not a direct result.

“If there’s something that’s been done wrong, it’s my duty to the 14,000-or-so taxpayers in Waxhaw to find out what’s going on,” Stewart said.

Censuring Gardner will open an investigation from a third-party into the nature and frequency of the violations.

Commissioner Joyce Blythe called for Gardner’s resignation during the June 18 meeting. When Gardner was arrested in Lancaster, S.C. in 2008 on DWI charges, Blythe said she said little. But this month’s arrest convinced her that Gardner’s behavior needed to be addressed in public.

“There’s a point where you can’t look the other way anymore,” she said. “She needs help.”

The censure is a new process for the whole board and not at all an easy decision, Commissioner Sean Poccia said.

“We’re relying heavily on our town attorney to help us and guide us on this process,” Poccia said.

Echoing Stewart, Poccia said the audit and investigation are not solely because of Gardner’s DWI arrest. The board will respect the mayor’s privacy during the process.

“But we also know we need to do what is right for our residents and our town,” he said.

Commissioners received hundreds of emails daily from Waxhaw residents since the arrest. Most want the commission to take some action, he said.

“The DWI arrest cracked the door open and invoked an additional layer of protocol that the mayor has been deficient in,” Poccia said.

While the process is difficult for the board, members cannot dismiss possible significant violations of town ethics and policy, he said. Besides the formal inquiry into her actions as mayor, the investigation will look at statements by owners of local bars and restaurants.

“We are actually collecting statements from establishment owners describing instances and issues they’ve had when the mayor has been a customer in their establishment,” Poccia said. They will also look for any statements made to Waxhaw Police about Gardner’s behavior in public if and when she had been drinking.

The commission will present what findings they have to date at its June 25 meeting, where it is expected the board will vote to censure Gardner.

“I will tell anyone that her professional attributes as mayor are way up there,” Poccia said. “But when you hear from residents that they have a huge concern that what she does in her personal life has profound effect on the town as a whole, we can’t ignore that.”

Censure is not removal from office. It is a formal reprimand of a member.

Blythe called for Gardner’s resignation.

“I asked her to do the decent thing to do and step down as mayor,” Blythe said.

Gardner, 41, is serving her second term as Waxhaw’s mayor.