Today is Thursday, August 17, 2017

MJ census director resigns

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Robertson said, however, that recently city accountants had "concerns" about how the allotted funds were being spent. The internal accountants approached Robertson, who turned to City Attorney Jason Holleman. The two men discussed the issue with Chambers last Tuesday, but Chambers continued to work on the census "since we were wrapping the whole thing up."

On Friday of last week, after meeting with the accountants, a team of auditors called in to inspect the numbers, interim Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick, and incoming MJPD Chief Andy Garrett, Robertson said they had enough verification to confront Chambers about the missing money.

"We had sufficient evidence to warrant a continued investigation, and that’s what this is – a continuing investigation," Robertson said.

Chambers made a full restitution for taking the money. He said he would invoice members of his family, himself and other people, then deposit the money into his checking account. He said that due to mounting medical bills due to his wife’s health and the death of his mother, who owed the IRS around $15,000, he simply could not make ends meet.

"I’d never dealt with the IRS before," Chambers said, "and they scared me to death."

Chambers added that combining long hours working on the census with his position as GIS director for the City, he was mentally exhausted and not thinking rationally. He said he "made a human mistake instead of going to God with my problems and praying about them."

"I got into a very stressful situation as many people do, but that doesn’t make it right," Chambers said. "I honestly have been a decent person all my life, and I made a huge mistake in a weak moment."

Chambers said he was being paid for the extra hours of working on the census by getting compensation time, or time off work, but that "comp time didn’t pay my bills."

"I tried to get myself paid for what I was doing, and that was wrong," he admitted. "The biggest thing I understand is that when you make a mistake you should come clean and try to make it right. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s what I’m trying to do."

Robertson said that a person in Chambers’ position paying himself "is not an uncommon practice" in City Hall, and that Chambers could have done so legally for an amount up to $600 without having to claim the income on his taxes. He said that if Chambers had discussed being compensated up front with officials, he could have made even more than $600.

"He could have paid himself to some extent, but he paid himself too much and took some liberties he shouldn’t have," Robertson said. "He was caught almost instantaneously."

Robertson insisted that "the census data is clean" and does not believe will be affected by Chambers’ "mistake."

"I think if anything, this will add another layer of scrutiny to it," Robertson commented.

The city manager also said that Chambers took a "voice detector test," or lie detector test, and that police felt positive about the results in that Chambers told the truth about what he did.

"When you’re telling the truth there’s nothing to hide," Chambers said.

Robertson said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) as well as District Attorney Tommy Thompson have been alerted to the situation but are leaving it up to the MJPD to conduct the investigation at this time. Criminal charges against Chambers are possible, but Robertson declined to comment since it is still and ongoing investigation.

"We are all saddened," Robertson said, "that this has happened, that Mike won’t be here anymore, and about the whole process."

Chambers expressed disappointment in himself, often tearing up during the press conference held Tuesday. He said he has turned to his church family, asked for forgiveness from everyone, and especially worries about how his mistake will affect his family.

"The biggest worry I have is for my kids and my wife," Chambers said softly. "They don’t need to be drug through this because of my mistake and weakness."

Robertson said he was pleased that Chambers made the restitution, and that "every single dime he paid himself has been returned."

"I’m pleased that he’s taking the steps to get through this," Robertson said. "It’s going to be a long tough road, but maybe, at some point, he can consider this an opportunity for something different for him and his family."

David Haffner, a friend of Chambers’ and a member of his church, sat by the man’s side and offered the support of himself and their church.

"He’s got the right heart and the right spirit," said Haffner. "We’re standing by him."

Chambers, visibly distraught, said that he has "disappointed innocent people and that’s what kills me."

"I’m like Mr. Squeaky Clean," he said, "and that just goes to show that anything can happen to anybody. The devil attacks when you’re on a roll, or weak, or scared. I was all of those things."

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