Rita Perry had no grand aspirations of civic leadership when she found herself thrust into the public eye. She was – and is – an average resident of small-town America. But when her suspicions were raised by what she felt were financial improprieties in her community, she unwittingly became a town hero.
Perry has worked as a city clerk and human resource officer in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but her roots are in nearby Spring Lake, where she has lived for over 48 years.
When Perry overheard an official at a Springville town meeting instruct someone on what to say about a recent audit report, she realized something was amiss. So armed with nothing more than a hunch, Perry started to investigate. And what she ended up with was evidence of persistent wrongdoing.
Perry turned herself into an amateur sleuth, pulling public records and putting together a list of suspicious spending. What she documented was an abuse of government credit cards, or ‘P-Cards’, that are paid for by taxpayers and only supposed to be used for small, official government purposes. Her findings revealed that more than 85 employees in a town of 12,000 had a credit card. A number that Alan Thompson, a certified accountant who conducted Springville’s last audit, said was “way too many.”
Perry’s findings also included expense reports, filed by public officials, that revealed excessive spending. With evidence of these infractions in hand, she contacted the state auditor. She also presented her findings to the local board of aldermen and sent emails to the media, outlining a pattern of malfeasance by the town’s management.
The result? The town manager resigned, the interim finance director was put on leave, and the state auditor agreed to examine the town’s finances. The Mayor is also considering hiring a consultant to advise Spring Lake on its finances and general operations.
Despite being the whistleblower that brought about these changes, Perry insists she deserves no accolades. She deflects praise, and says her only concern is to make things better for the town and its residents. A quote on her Facebook page makes her feelings clear: “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says, ‘Oh crap, she’s up!’”