Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Director agrees to repay $21,000

Leader staff writer

Beebe Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Hatcher agreed in a special city council meeting Monday to return the overpayment of a $21,000 vehicle reimbursement at $500 a month until it is repaid in full. The payment of $1,000 a month instead of $500 for the past 42 months was due to a clerical error, the council was told.

“I have a proposal to the council for a repayment for those funds — not that I am guilty of anything, but it is the right thing to do,” Hatcher said.

The proposal of repayment was a week after the overpayment was noticed and discussed during a 2016 budget meeting. The council voted unanimously Nov. 9 to fire Hatcher, but Mayor Mike Robertson vetoed that decision the following day.

On Monday, the council made a motion to accept Hatcher’s proposal and unanimously voted for it. The $500 will come out of Hatcher’s monthly paycheck.

The city will purchase a 2016 Dodge crew cab pickup for $24,473 for the Beebe Parks Department. Hatcher will use his truck without a vehicle reimbursement until the new parks’ truck arrives. Every month that he drives his vehicle will be a repayment to the city in lieu for $500 for up to three months. When the truck arrives, the money will be deducted from his check.

On Tuesday, Alderman David Pruitt told The Leader, “I am thankful that Lynn Hatcher is returning the money back to the citizens of Beebe.”

Alderman Linda Anthony thanked Hatcher for offering his proposal.

Alderman Matthew Duggar said, “(Hatcher) in doing this, shows everyone at this table how much you love this city. It takes a lot of guts to sit here and do this. Thank you and we’re glad we can continue to work with you.”

City Clerk/Treasurer Carol Westergren said, “I truly believe it was a data entry error. We had a new system. I am sorry the mistake happened. I am sorry it was not caught earlier. As we mature in our roles, we learn what folks need to do to deal with the budget.

“This year we came up with a spreadsheet and thought it would be easier for you all to understand how people were making what they were making so it would be easier to explain to employees that along with their salary that they were getting these benefits, which is part of their package,” she said.

“That is how this was discovered. I truly wished this had not happened. I truly wished we did this spreadsheet three years ago. We are only human. We handle a lot of things in our office. I am truly sorry. Mistakes happen,” Westergren said.

Mayor Robertson chastised The Leader in a prepared speech for its coverage of the parks director story.

Anthony also criticized this reporter for his reporting.

She claimed people were spreading lies. Anthony said she works in Little Rock and Alderman Pruitt brought shame to Beebe with his accusations. Anthony called Pruitt a coward and said his motives were politically motivated for his re-election in 2016.

Anthony said that on Tuesday before last Hatcher did offer to repay the money, saying, “‘I’d rather keep my job, if I had to pay the money back.’ Was I the only one that heard that?” Anthony asked.

Several aldermen said they heard Hatcher’s remark, but at that time no council member made a motion for him to repay the money.

Robertson said there had been questions about how Hatcher was handling gate and concession money.

Westergren said when Hatcher was hired, the city put new procedures in place because of a problems under a previous parks director. Two people would audit the gate and concession money and take it to the bank.

She said she hired two employees before Hatcher was hired. Hatcher retained them. The two employees from 2012-14 signed off on every audit sheet and one of them took the money to the bank. It was then dropped off in a lock box.

Westergren’s department head, and both of the two employees, had that key.

Hatcher did not have those keys. She said either she or one of her staff members picked up the money bag in the morning.

“In my opinion, there is no way Lynn could have stolen from the gate, the concession or the pool,” Westergren said.