Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> Officials question assessor’s expenses

Leader staff writer

A complaint to the Lonoke County Quorum Court Thursday night about inappropriate spending in the assessor’s office is valid, according to the county clerk who has asked the assessor to reimburse the county.

But County Assessor Jack McNally says he’s not sure he’s willing to pay back anything.

County Clerk Larry Clarke said Friday, “If it was a judgment call, I’d err on the side of the elected official, but this is cut and dry.” He was referring to a $236 Cabot Sign and Banner bill for two signs with the “Wounded Warrior” logo that McNally ordered and placed in his Cabot office and also used at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Clarke said he and Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin talked to the state Division of Legislative Audit about that bill.

“I wasn’t put in office to just pay bills and go about my business,” Clarke said.

The law is clear, he continued. “You can’t use tax payers’ funds on private organizations,” Clarke said.

Wounded Warriors is a worthy cause that should be supported, but not by taxpayers, he said.

McNally said that since the signs were going in the assessor’s office he assumed his office should pay for them. He bought two signs and an A-shaped frame to hold them.

McNally also set out a collection bucket and took in about $37 over a three-week period before County Judge Doug Erwin told him to remove the bucket. He cut a personal check for that amount and sent it to Wounded Warriors, McNally said.

If he needs to reimburse the county, the amount should be the $70 for the two signs because he can use the frame to advertise the mobile assessor’s office he takes to England every month, McNally insisted.

Clarke said he is working with Erwin and County Treasurer Patty Weathers to try to “raise the bar” in the operations of Lonoke County offices.

Weathers told The Leader that she digs into accounts that are setting idle to find all the money the county can use. Erwin has closed accounts for his road and bridge department and pooled funds into one so it is always apparent how much money his department has, she said.

Clarke said it’s his job to question expenditures like McNally’s $224.70 purchase of six short-sleeved shirts for his own use.

According to the legislative audit, nothing about McNally’s job requires him to wear uniforms. So the purchase was an “inappropriate expenditure” and one that Clarke hasn’t yet called to McNally’s attention.

Neither has he talked to him about buying water, coffee, disposable plates, plastic flatware and frozen lasagna on his county account at Fred’s.

Office supplies are an acceptable expenditure. But Clarke said, “We don’t need to be charging the taxpayers for our lunch.”

The spending at Fred’s is a gray area, but the signs and shirts are not, he continued.

McNally needs to pay restitution and let the county move on to important issues, like finding money to run the sheriff’s department and jail, Clarke said.