LAKELAND, FL – The manager of the city of Lakeland’s motor pool, where a taxpayer-financed $5,300 grill was built early this year, has quit his job, according to the Web site www.heraldtribune.com.
City officials said Tom Blanke quit after his boss told him he was going to be terminated. Brad Lewis, a motor pool foreman, has been suspended for five days with pay for his involvement in the grill’s purchase, according to www.heraldtribune.com
Blanke, 55, who was paid $86,736 a year, gave no reason for quitting in his short written notice to the city. His resignation from fleet management was effective immediately. Blanke’s boss, Public Works Director Rick Lilyquist, recommended Blanke be fired, and Lilyquist’s boss, City Manager Doug Thomas, upheld the recommendation.
Since Blanke has more than 10 years of service with the city, he will receive his pension, as he would even if he had been fired. Thomas said a city investigation uncovered “conflicting accounts” of whether Lewis acted with Blanke in ordering parts for the grill on the city’s dime or whether Lewis was taking orders from Blanke in doing so.
Rick Bell and Jim Bates, two mechanics who spent a combined 92 hours in January working on the grill, were given verbal reprimands. The city’s investigation found the two men were doing what they were ordered to do. The motor pool requested permission from the city purchasing office three times to spend $2,491 to buy the parts for a barbecue grill. Three times the request was refused, according to city documents.
A newspaper story and subsequent city investigation found that after the third refusal, Lewis used his city purchasing card, splitting the grill-parts purchase into three transactions to avoid a $1,000 purchasing card spending limit. The transactions were listed as parts for two trucks and a trailer rather than as grill parts, according to www.heraldtribune.com
The grill will be moved and used at community events. Thomas has ordered chrome smokestacks and a Mack Truck bulldog ornament to be removed from the grill.