Springfield aldermen banned from city council's office supply closet

Bruce Rushton

Even as the Springfield City Council has voted to double spending for office supplies, aldermen have been relieved of keys to the council’s office-supply closet.

Seems someone has been stealing office supplies. Either that, or supplies have been sprouting legs and walking off.

“We’ve had some things missing — file folders, pens, stuff like that,” said Joe Davis, council coordinator. “It’s unusual we went through so many of them lately.”

Because the council uses about $100 worth of supplies per year, it’s easy to tell when things disappear, Davis said, and nothing has gone missing since the lock to the supply closet was recently changed. Previously, Davis, an office assistant, aldermen and security officers had keys to the closet that also worked to open the office door. Now, Davis said, just he and the assistant have access to the supply closet.

Without naming names, Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards suggested the prime suspect is an alderman.

“There’s 12 people who have access to that,” Edwards said. “They changed the locks for some reason. You’ve eliminated the two who had the locks changed. That leaves 10.”

Stealing office supplies is a serious matter when an elected body is involved, Edwards said.

“In the public’s eye, it’s not the dollar amount, it’s doing it,” he said. “I cannot afford to have this office impugned, and I will not put up with it. If we find out or I hear someone’s taking stuff out of the office that belongs to the people, I’ll call for a police investigation.”

While council members no longer have unfettered access to office supplies, other workers are going through supplies faster than budget writers imagined. So it is that the city council on Tuesday voted to increase spending for office supplies by $50,000, marking the second time this year aldermen have expanded a two-year contract with Midwest Office Supply, which offers the city a discount.

The contract, which expires in December, was supposed to cost the city $150,000. In February, aldermen approved a $100,000 increase after city staff told the council that employees were going through supplies at a faster-than-anticipated clip.

“In reality, we bid it at $150,000 and doubled it,” Ward 10 Ald. Tim Griffin said.

Ken Crutcher, director of the city’s office of budget and finance, said a preliminary review has raised no flags indicating theft or misuse of office supplies.

During last week’s finance committee meeting, city attorney Jenifer Johnson told aldermen that the contract covers “everything you’d possibly use in an office” and said the city’s two-year office-supply budget should really be called an “initial payment authorization.”

“It’s not just paper and pens,” Johnson said. “How could you possibly estimate, citywide, every need that could come up in a two-year period?”

On Tuesday, Daniel Rittenhouse, a city purchasing agent, told the council that the city had not previously had a contract with an office-supply firm that covered all city departments. The original $150,000 budgeted for supplies was a “pure estimate,” he said.

“We had never had a city office-supply contract I could review,” Rittenhouse said.

Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 orbruce.rushton@sj-r.com.