Michael White was hired in July 2017 by the city of Lynn Haven to work as its city manager/city clerk, taking on roles that most towns of Lynn Haven’s size pay two people to perform.
Three months later, White eliminated the job of the leisure services director and, at the Oct. 10 meeting of the city’s governing board, requested he be allowed to hold that position too.
“The city manager stated that he looks to Leisure Services as the department that makes the citizens want to live in Lynn Haven and it improves the quality of life,” minutes from the meeting state.
One thing White seemed to have accomplished by doing away with the Leisure Services position was consolidate his own authority and eliminate any potential department head oversight of spending in areas that included park maintenance and facility upkeep.
Now White has a lot of people, including the FBI, asking questions about what extracurricular activities he might have been engaged in as a multi-tasking city manager.
One city official appeared to have grown suspicious of White by the time he resigned his positions with the city in March of this year. He stepped down after being charged with pointing a gun at his wife during a domestic dispute.
During a special meeting called to accept White’s resignation, Mayor Margo Anderson asked to be allowed to take over as acting city manager. She said she wanted the job so that she could investigate her immediate predecessor.
“This week, I believe, is a time that is very timely that I make sure what Mr. White was doing is what I believed he was doing, and I have to find that out,” she told the City Commission in making her ultimately unsuccessful bid to be appointed.
Anderson did not respond when asked if she’d ever been able to find what she was looking for.
Federal agents swept into Lynn Haven this April with subpoenas requesting “any and all” paperwork related to Michael White, everything from his personnel file to emails and texts, contracts and agreements, credit card statements, payroll, and invoices submitted to the city for reimbursement and the cancelled checks paying for those reimbursements.
Subpoenas were also issued for documents and records relating to two businesses, Greenleaf Lawn Care and Erosion Control Specialist, that had done work for the city.
Greenleaf Lawn Care of Bay County, owned by Joshua and Serenity Anderson, had been hired in October 2017 to do landscaping work for Lynn Haven.
Erosion Control Specialist, owned and managed by David and Tiffany White, signed a debris removal contract with the city on Oct. 22, 2018, just days after Hurricane Michael.
The ECS contract called for “emergency related maintenance and repair of damaged city property” and made note of the fact that, due to the dire straits the city found itself in following the hurricane, the contract could be awarded without going through a competitive bid process.
The contract between the city and ECS bears the signature of City Manager Michael White.
Lynn Haven’s acting City Manager, Vickie Gainer, has confirmed that David and Tiffany White are not related to Michael White, but the couple does have close ties to Greenleaf Lawn Care and its owners Joshua and Serenity Anderson, who are also under FBI scrutiny.
“It’s a sister company,” David White responded when asked about the relationship.
Tiffany White, the president of ECS, has been listed in state documents as a stockholder in Greenleaf at various times since the company was formed in 2016.
After the FBI issued its subpoenas for city documents, Lynn Haven Commissioner Judy Tinder conducted her own review of city finances in an effort to gain support for her call for a forensic audit.
She reported to fellow elected officials this August that she didn’t have to look very hard to find evidence of “blatant fraud” and “previous poor management practices” occurring within the city both before and after Hurricane Michael.
Tinder said ECS had received about $5 million for debris removal between Oct. 21, 2018 and March 15, 2019.
The commissioner said she found 13 ECS invoices that were not accompanied by purchase orders, including one of $28,978 for the clearing of debris within Osceola Point, a privately owned, gated community.
She claims to have seen time sheets that paid each of about 25 employees on a given day $65 an hour for work conducted between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. seven days a week, with no unpaid lunch break documented.
“I imagine they broke every labor law known to mankind,” Tinder said.
The documents Tinder said she saw also appear in a packet of records the News Herald received from Lynn Haven. And there are other ECS payment records that indicate possible further abuses.
After the contract with the city was signed, David White, the owner of Erosion Control Specialist, installed himself as project executive, a position that appears to have initially paid $125 per hour and later paid $175 an hour.
David White also goes by the name of Mickey White. Invoices filed while the debris removal was underway show there were days when Mickey White would be working as a supervisor, making $90 an hour while David White was pulling his $175 an hour shift as project executive.
On at least one occasion invoices indicate Mickey White was being paid $90 an hour as a supervisor and $49.99 per hour as an equipment operator while David White was collecting $175 an hour as project executive. For a 10 hour shift, that’s a $3,149.90 pay day.
Additionally, Shannon Harris, who is David White’s sister, appeared at times to have made $90 an hour as a supervisor and another $49.99 an hour as an operator. Two others, Josh Canty and John Davenport, also received double pay, records indicate.
David White said Shannon Harris, now Shannon Rodriguez, was the person from ECS responsible for keeping track of who was working each day.
“She didn’t keep books, but she kept track and made sure everybody signed in and out,” he said.
Efforts to reach Harris-Rodriguez were unsuccessful.
Josh Anderson, the owner of Greenleaf Lawn Care of Bay County, also spent some days on the ECS payroll, typically when his company was working in the same area around the city’s Sheffield Park.
Anderson’s name appeared as a $90 an hour supervisor who also appeared to be making $49.99 an hour as an equipment operator.
Records show that Anderson was also collecting fees for allowing ECS to use his equipment. David White confirmed this to be true.
“We paid him for his equipment and guys,” he said.
White said he did not believe Greenleaf was double billing the city for debris clearing and lawn work.
“They had some of their people with us and Greenleaf had guys doing their normal business,” he said.
David White said he is unsure of how much his company profited from the work it did for Lynn Haven. He said he could not recall whether ECS was paying him and other employees for doing more than one job.
“I can’t tell you what was done and wasn’t done. It’s a year out and I don’t remember two weeks ago,” White said.
The money Lynn Haven officials were paying to ECS for debris removal was reimbursed by FEMA, which sent at least two checks, totaling more than $10 million, to the city.
David White said everything done on the work sites his crews visited was “set up” by FEMA. The feds, he said, established pay scales and based all work on an hourly rate.
“They determined where we’d go and what we’d do and when we were done they’d move us on to the next place,” he said.
Officials from FEMA, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Transportation all denied having personnel deployed in Lynn Haven to monitor debris removal following Hurricane Michael.
“Bay County was responsible for their own debris removal,” FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said.
Invoices obtained by the News Herald indicate ECS was billing the city more than $450,000 for a half month’s worth of cleaning up trash. Between Dec. 13 and Dec. 31, 2018 the total was $481,215 and between Jan. 2 and Jan. 14, 2019, the price was $479,020.
Following the trash removal, a crew of 25 entered the city’s Kinsaul Park on Jan. 15 and worked until the 19th clearing debris there.
This was the team cited by Tinder that was paid for eleven hours each day for work from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. with no break. The city received a bill of $216,771 for the work done during the five-day stretch and another of $216,488 for the same labor between Jan. 20 and Jan. 25.
Two of the many other invoices reviewed indicate ECS filled in three cemetery lots and billed the city $13,800 and demolished and rebuilt a concrete sidewalk for $85,550.
Tinder told the News Herald she found nothing pointing directly to City Manager Michael White’s involvement in the fraud and poor management she had uncovered through her research, but she’s anxious to see what the FBI might have turned up.
“I just wish the FBI would take some action,” she said. “I want people to know we’re not just sitting around talking.”
Michael White indicated via email that terms of his resignation from the city of Lynn Haven would not allow him to speak to a reporter. A review of those terms indicates that no such prohibition was placed upon him.
The resignation agreement does show White received a hefty severance package from the city, including $14,000 to “repair” an ATV he claimed had been damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
The insurance website Markel estimates the average cost of an ATV to be between $3,000 and $15,000, depending on whether it is bought new or used.