BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Arkansas Legislative Audit (ALA) has issued a report of finding unauthorized disbursements with the Office of Emergency Management in Polk County. The report was presented to the Polk County Quorum Court at their monthly meeting on March 28, 2017.
According to the report, $3,437 of improper disbursements was found from a 20-month period beginning January 1, 2015 through August 4, 2016. The disbursements included purchases for replacement parts and maintenance supplies for personal vehicle and equipment, groceries, medicines, personal clothing, personal cell phone service, accessories, and apps, and other personal items.
The report stated that during an interview with ALA staff, then OEM Director James Reeves, “acknowledged that he ‘made some mistakes.’”
The report also said, “The purpose of this report is solely to describe the scope of our testing of internal control and compliance and the result of that testing, and not to provide an opinion on the effectiveness of the entity’s internal control or compliance.”
Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison said the investigation by ALA “revealed information that would have been very hard to detect looking at it monthly. The purchases in questions were generally for items that could be associated within the scope of the mission and were for small amounts, usually less than $50.”
Following the investigation, James Reeves resigned.
Ellison also stated that pursuant to Arkansas code, “it would have been unlawful to release this information to the public prior to the approval of the Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, comprised of Senate and House members of the General Assembly. The committee approved the release as of March 15, 2017.”
Ellison continued, “It is important to remember that the ALA is not a court of law. Any finding of this nature is an allegation and could be appealed.”
Although Ellison is disappointed, he is also thankful the issue wasn’t larger. “It is disappointing that a public servant would take advantage of their position for personal gain. The Office of Emergency Services has broad duties and, therefore, must have broad purchasing authority to effectively operate. I am thankful that the Arkansas Legislative Audit detected the unauthorized purchases before this problem grew larger and so that we could immediately take corrective action. It is understood that the Prosecuting Attorney has been notified and any action would be at that office’s discretion.”
Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner explained that an audit finding is “not necessarily indicative of criminal misconduct” and that only a criminal investigation can determine if there has or has not been in criminal wrongdoing. “I have requested a criminal investigation and passed it along to the appropriate authorities [Arkansas State Police].” Until a proper criminal investigation is complete, Riner will not know what charges, if any, will need to be pursued.