Forget #Podiumgate: Let's Look at #Procurementgate in Jefferson County
Legislative Audit lacks any real teeth
Are you hoping someone will go to jail because of the $19,000 lectern that has cast a black cloud over Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her staff?
If you think the $19,000 procurement blunder by the Sanders Administration for a lectern purchase is criminal, a look at a Jefferson County 2021 legislative audit may turn your stomach.
An Arkansas Legislative Audit Management letter to Jefferson County officials suggests little to no action could occur for Sanders or her staff.
According to the management letter dated September 21, 2022, the Jefferson County audit had major procurement issues.
What Did The Letter Say?
According to documents, auditors discovered that Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson’s chief of staff was allowed to resign after a finding showed 25 non-county cell phone numbers were added to the county’s cell phone account.
It states: "According to county personnel, some of these unauthorized phones appeared to belong to family members and acquaintances of the County Judge’s Chief of Staff who resigned in January 2022."
It states further that “the County Judge notified the 11th West Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney and Arkansas State Police of this matter.”
Upon further scrutiny into the details of this audit, the county failed to solicit bids for the $102,659 purchases of landscaping services. Landscaping appears to be a lucrative service in Jefferson County, pulling a cool $66,659 plus a contract for maintenance coming in at another $36,000 with taxpayer money without a single bid.
Focus, Let’s Keep It Going Here
During the review of 2021 construction projects, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee cited non-compliance with Arkansas Code 22-9-203 in the letter for failure to solicit bids for the project's general contractor as well as stating the general contractor was not selected by the county.
The auditors additionally found that the Jefferson County Sanitation Department implemented a new software – Trashflow – for the collection of sanitation and recycling payments. The funds collected were deposited into an account owned by “Trashflow." Once again noncompliance was cited under another Arkansas Code 14-25-102.
But Wait There's More
In the evaluation of the Jefferson County District Court, auditors found that a newly-hired probation officer began “collecting and receipting” funds before his newly-created position was formally approved by the Jefferson County Quorum Court.
It states the fee amounts collected were higher in cost than the amounts approved by the district judge.
Following The Money
The report states this probation officer collected the funds and deposited them into his own personal bank account.
“When Court personnel discussed these discrepancies with the Probation Officer, he indicated that he was never told what to do with the funds he collected. Court personnel determined, and we verified, the receipts issued by the Probation Officer during the period of August 17, 2021, through September 30, 2021, totaled $4,300.”
On October 1, 2021, the probation officer reimbursed $4,300 to the District Court.
Try dodging the cashier at the Super One with $500 worth of groceries then try explaining to the judge that you planned to pay for the food later.
Does This Sound Familiar?
If the legislative audit finds wrongdoing in the case of the mysterious Sanders lectern, will the precedent in Jefferson County set the outcome?
Will Arkansas government continue to allow this kind of appalling misuse of tax dollars? When will Arkansans see action taken to hold those handling tax money in government accountable?
We called County Judge Gerald Robinson’s office and reached a recording stating the inbox was full and couldn’t leave a message. We followed with two calls to Robinson's cell phone leaving voice messages asking for comment. Robinson has not returned our calls.
South Arkansas Reckoning reached out to Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter's office to inquire about any pending criminal charges concerning this 2021 audit. We spoke to a secretary and are still waiting for a call.
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