Prose­cu­tor re­quests po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion for Cave Springs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TRACY NEAL

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County Prose­cu­tor Nathan Smith has asked the Arkansas State Po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing in Cave Springs re­ported in a re­cent leg­isla­tive au­dit.

Smith sent a let­ter Thurs­day to Col. Bill Bryant, di­rec­tor of the state po­lice, re­quest­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The au­dit un­cov­ered the unau­tho­rized over-pay­ment of city of­fi­cials, al­leged mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of city money, and other fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties,” Smith wrote in his let­ter. “Af­ter re­view­ing the au­dit, it is ap­par­ent to me that fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion into these is­sues is war­ranted.”

Mayor Travis Lee didn’t re­turn a phone call seek­ing com­ment Thurs­day. Kim­berly Hutch­e­son, the city’s recorder trea­surer, said she

had no com­ment on Smith’s let­ter.

Justin Eich­mann, city at­tor­ney, said Thurs­day he and city of­fi­cials are fo­cused on get­ting items in the au­dit fixed.

“It’s a bad au­dit, but it’s im­por­tant for the city to ad­dress and fix the prob­lem,” Eich­mann said.

Eich­mann said his goal is to have a clean au­dit next year and to not re­peat the same mis­takes. City of­fi­cials are work­ing with David Wil­liams, a re­tired au­di­tor, to ad­dress the prob­lems, Eich­mann said.

The state Leg­isla­tive Au­dit found Cave Springs failed to meet the re­quire­ments of state law in 22 in­stances from 2015 through 2016.

The city put $61,307 from its street fund into the gen­eral fund in 2016, which breaks the law, ac­cord­ing to the re­port re­leased in late July. The city did the same thing with $19,709 the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to the au­dit.

The au­dit also found a num­ber of ex­penses paid without proper au­tho­riza­tion by the City Coun­cil, al­though they were not cited as fail­ures to meet le­gal re­quire­ments.

For ex­am­ple, the city’s recorder trea­surer was over­paid $14,509 in 2016, the re­port found. An­other such ex­am­ple stems from an April 12, 2016, city res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing buy­ing a ve­hi­cle for $23,165. The ve­hi­cle or­dered, how­ever, was $33,655 af­ter $10,155 in

ac­ces­sories were added to the $23,500 base pur­chase price. This re­sulted in “a dis­burse­ment in ex­cess of ap­pro­pri­a­tion to­talling $10,490,” the re­port says.

Cave Springs Al­der­man Larry Fletcher be­lieves Smith did the right thing in re­quest­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“A lot of good Cave Springs peo­ple have been dis­re­spected as the re­sult of the ac­tions of the elected of­fi­cials who were found to be at fault in the au­dit,” Fletcher said Thurs­day. “They had put their full faith and trust in those peo­ple to con­duct the busi­ness of Cave Springs and ap­par­ently it wasn’t done. It was neg­li­gence, and per­son­ally, it’s very em­bar­rass­ing to see a doc­u­ment like this come out about our city.”

Lee and Hutch­e­son have been locked in a dis­pute since Septem­ber, when Lee sent Hutch­e­son home and blocked her from ac­cess­ing city com­puter data. Lee said he did so be­cause Hutch­e­son had mis­treated city work­ers.

Hutch­e­son is su­ing Lee, the six-per­son City Coun­cil and two for­mer coun­cil mem­bers claim­ing the mayor and other elected of­fi­cials won’t let her do her job. The law­suit claims Lee and the coun­cil mem­bers vi­o­lated Hutch­e­son’s con­sti­tu­tional rights by pun­ish­ing her and re­strict­ing her abil­ity to do her job. The de­fen­dants have de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Most of the in­stances cited in the au­dit as noncompliance with state law in­volve record-keep­ing pro­vi­sions of those laws. For ex­am­ple, the city made elec­tronic pay­ments without us­ing a method ap­proved by the Leg­isla­tive Joint Au­dit­ing Com­mit­tee, as re­quired by law, the re­port says.

The mayor also hired at­tor­neys without coun­cil ap­proval, the au­dit said. Coun­cil ap­proval of such hires is re­quired, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“The city paid a ven­dor $1,093 to set up a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, Friends of Cave Springs, for which the mayor, recorder-trea­surer and a city em­ployee were of­fi­cers, in con­flict with [the] Arkansas Con­sti­tu­tion, Ar­ti­cle 12, Sec­tion 5,” the re­port said.

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