CHARLESTOWN – Charlestown’s new mayor, Treva Hodges, discovered shredded documents, a USB drive, new office supplies and more in the dumpster behind City Hall, just after taking keys to the city.
“I’m angry for our citizens, because ultimately, these are not my documents that got destroyed. They’re theirs. Every document created, every bill received, everything done through a municipality is the property of the people, because it’s their services. It’s their government,” Hodges said. “What looks to be a targeted administrative jab at me, I would go so far to say a deliberate attempt at sabotage of my administration, is in fact a huge insult to every single citizen of Charlestown.”
Following a contentious election and a narrow victory, Hodges said she was excited to start as Charlestown’s mayor Jan. 1, following outgoing mayor Bob Hall, who served a total of 16 years, 12 of those consecutively. She wanted to see her new office as soon as possible, and came in when she received the keys on New Year’s Eve. Her excitement waned even more on New Year's Day, when she discovered her new office was completely void of any documents, files or even a computer.
AN EMPTY OFFICE
“Immediately it felt off, because it was just so clean,” Hodges said of walking into her office.
Next to her desk, she found evidence of something that was attempted to be shredded.
“We found this, which is just a magazine. It’s completely innocuous. It’s the local Clark County tourism magazine,” Hodges said, showing the partially shredded remains of the magazine. “When I saw this in the trash, I thought, well, what else has been shredded? So, we checked the shredder and the shredder buckets were completely empty. But we did find some scraps on the bottom.”
She checked the other offices in the executive suite, which were also cleaned out and small bits of shredded paper were found. Computers were either set to factory reset or password protected, unable to be used, she said.
Hodges and her team dug deeper — into the building’s dumpster and recovered four large bags of trash, which she emptied in her office, filling the floor with various discoveries. Her team spent five hours pulling out whatever seemed important and putting together pieces of shredded documents. The group found a USB drive with redevelopment documents on it, an audio cassette tape and more.
“We also found some things that were very concerning for the City of Charlestown, bills that were unopened for the City of Charlestown, one of which I have confirmed has not been paid,” Hodges said, sitting at her desk surrounded by piles of paper mixed with trash. “So that would not have been paid had we not found it in the trash. Letters relating to the purchase of property that the city has made in the last year … incomplete absentee ballot applications … a ledger of city service calls and requests that are unfilled.”
That trash may just be a fraction of what’s missing.
“I called our sanitation workers and I asked if there had been a request for a large trash removal from City Hall recently and I found out that on Friday, there was a large request made,” Hodges said. “It appeared to be shredded material, about a dozen bags of shredded, large black trash bags of shredded material. And that’s already gone to the landfill. I can’t retrieve that.”
City Attorney Mickey Weber said he called the Clark County prosecutor, who called Indiana State Police. ISP sent a detective Thursday to Hodges' office in City Hall. She said he is expected to return Friday.
Hall contends nothing is missing from the office and that his staff did nothing wrong.
"I have no idea of missing documents. I don't know what she thinks should be there that isn't there," Hall said via phone. "... I don't have anything to hide."
In a now deleted Facebook post to his personal page, Hall wrote that his job wasn't to maintain records.
“The Clerk Treasurer Office is the office responsible for the records of the City. They do a great job and have all the minutes, ordinances, resolutions, legal documents, financial records, contracts, official policies, required records, etc. for safe keeping,” Hall posted just before 1 p.m. Thursday. “The Mayor’s office is not required or responsible to keep official records or copies … The building Commissioner is the only office that generates official records that is not kept with the Clerk Treasurer’s office. All the Commissions [sic] required records are there as they should be.”
As for the bags of shredded information taken to the area landfill, Hall said it was typical for office personnel to shred items.
"It was set by the garbage can," Hall said of the shredder. "You'd just go shred a paper."
He said it was used often.
"We use the shredder every day," he explained. "We get tons of marketing stuff, people wanting us to do things. Things from all over the place that you don't keep ... It's not an official document that we're responding to or anything."
He said, however, that only his staff used the shredder.
"I didn't shred anything," Hall said.
The former mayor said beyond the documents maintained by the Clerk-Treasurer's office, his emails are all there and are able to be accessed by talking to the city's contracted technology company. Hodges said a company representative came in Thursday and realized what was going on and said he'd have to get his manager to get into the computers.
Leah Farris Lowe, Hodges' communications director, said 11 computers were found throughout the offices, four of which were set on password protect. The other seven were wiped clean, back to the factory reset.
Hall said he did tell staff to remove any personal information from computers prior to leaving.
"We use our computers mainly for answering emails and sending emails and calendars," Hall said. "... It's just general office stuff."
Hodges said the computers were not backed up on the server.
Hall said working documents are not considered public records and did not need to be kept. He said that what was likely extra copies of other items accumulated over his 12 years as mayor adds up.
"I’m confident when it all settles out that there’s nothing missing for her to be able to run the city," Hall said.
Hodges said she had hoped that residents wouldn’t see any disruption in city services with her taking office. She even kept many of the department heads on staff, to prevent too much change. However, she said she didn't envision starting her term as mayor like this.
“I need for the citizens of Charlestown to understand that this is a blank slate, because of what we’ve inherited,” Hodges said. “And I need them to understand that. I’m going to request that they be patient with us.”
She said if anyone has made a request for services or if a vendor was seeking payment within the past 60 days to reach out again.
“I’d say 60 days to be safe, for any kind of service request that has not been fulfilled,” Hodges said. “The same goes for vendors. If there are vendors who have sent bills by phone or email or mail in the past 60 days in the City of Charlestown. Then if they have not yet received payment, I need them to reach back out, because I don’t know what other bills were thrown away or shredded.”
In her new office, Hodges found a TV and a wall hanging, about family, sitting on a chair. No computer was in her office.
“I have no documentation or evidence of any internal controls being applied here,” Hodges said. “I’ve got, for instance, iPad boxes that look brand new that have been opened with chargers still in them, but the iPads are missing and I cannot tell you who has those iPads, because there’s no inventory list of equipment or resources or supplies.”
City attorney Weber said Hodges and her team will cooperate fully with law enforcement.
As for the bags of trash already at the landfill, Weber said he isn’t sure those can be recovered, as those will be buried under resident trash from both Clark and Floyd counties.
Meanwhile, Hodges’ team is left to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of what they can find. Donna Coomer, the clerk-treasurer, has been helpful in linking Hodges to various vendors, based on previously paid contracts, the mayor said.
“It is starting from scratch,” Hodges said. “Now, my team can do it. And we’re going to get this done.”