State auditors have reprimanded almost the entire county government over accounting practices and Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton contested findings that he relied upon implied bids for jail construction work awarded to local contractors and claimed reimbursement for clothing without showing the purchases as income to the IRS.
The Hempstead County Quorum Court is expected to review the findings at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Thursday in the third floor central courtroom of the Hempstead County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.
Two audit letters issued Sept. 4 by Roger Norman, legislative auditor, and June Barron, deputy legislative auditor, through the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee of the Arkansas General Assembly, cover two broad points in offering what is known as an “adverse opinion” on the general accounting practices of the county, and a notice of noncompliance over internal financial controls, which raises the issues of compliance with state law regarding accepted practices.
The letter from Norman explains how the county has continued to use accounting principles which are allowed under Arkansas law, but are not generally accepted nationwide.
“The effects on the financial statements of the variances between the regulatory basis of accounting described in Note 1 and accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, although not reasonably determinable, are presumed to be material,” Norman's letter notes.
The upshot of that, based upon Barron's letter, is that none of the countywide officers have developed a “segregated” system of handling funds within their own offices, which would essentially require hiring an individual in each office for that specific duty.
Barron's letter also notes that Hempstead County Judge Wallace Martin's office has not kept a record of any ordinance passed by the quorum court reflecting its acceptance of the state's 2011 audit of the county as required by state law.
The most detailed aspects of the audit findings reflect upon the alleged lack of competitive bidding for the projects to re-roof the Hempstead County Detention Center, add new HVAC units, and expand the offices of the sheriff's department.
Barron specifically alleges that Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton skirted state law regarding competitive bidding for the three projects. Singleton has provided his detailed responses in a package of information given to each county JP, he said, which the Hope Star has obtained.
Detention center roof
“The Sheriff advertised for bids on June 26, 2012, and received none. He then contacted a contractor who had provided an estimate dated May 24, 2012, to ask if the estimate was the contractor's bid. The contractor said it was and was awarded the contract,” Barron wrote.
Singleton denies the allegation in an extensive response to Marti Steel, supervisor of the audit, arguing that, in each instance, he sought some sense of cost for each project upon which to address each before the quorum court. Singleton said that was the basis upon which he had a discussion in March or April, 2012, with contractor John Little of JDL Construction.
Page 2 of 3 - “I asked him if he could give me an estimate/quote on what the cost may be so I could inform the Quorum Court of the estimated cost of the roof,” Singleton wrote.
He said Little provided a written estimate of $140,030 on May 24, 2012, which Singleton took the the quorum court's jail committee to discuss the needed repairs. He said he advertised for bids locally in the Hope Star for seven days but received no bids. He provided copies of the advertising.
“I contacted Mr. Little at JDL Construction and asked if the quote he gave me on May 24, 2012, as his bid on the project he advised me that it was I contacted the Chairman of the Jail Committee and advised him of the situation and after some discussion I advised Mr. Little that he would receive job for the amount he had quoted on May 24, 2012,” Singleton's letter states.
Detention center air conditioners
“The Sheriff advertised for bids on June 25, 2012, and received none. He then contacted a contractor who had provided an estimate on June 21, 2012, to ask if the estimate was the contractor's bid. The contractor said it was and was awarded the contract,” Barron wrote.
Singleton notes that he did essentially the same thing regarding the air conditioning units as he had where the roofing work was concerned, consulting with Paul Chambless at Greenlee Sheet Metal Co., in Hope.
“On June 21, 2012, I received an estimate/quote of $47,795.62 to replace the six units,” Singleton wrote.
He said he prepared advertising for bids which was published for seven days in the Hope Star. He provided copies of the advertising.
“Once again I received no bids other than the quote/estimate I received from Greenlee Sheet Metal of Hope,” Singleton wrote. “I contacted Mr. Paul Chambless to ask if the quote he submitted was his bid and he stated it was. The contract was awarded to Greenlee Sheet Metal for the air/heat units.”
Sheriff's office expansion
“Before bids were awarded, an engineering firm sent a letter dated July 30, 2012, to the County requesting payment of the first invoice of $24,269 to a contractor. However, bids were not opened or tabulated until August 21, 2012,” Barron wrote.
In this instance, Singleton explains that he contacted a civil engineer, Jeremy Stone of Civil Engineering Associates in Hot Springs, about the estimated costs for the expansion of the sheriff's department offices. He said Stone produced preliminary plans and specifications for a 1,775-square foot expansion at an estimated cost of $258,750. Singleton said he discussed the idea with the county jail committee and came up with a plan to fund the project with $130,000 remaining from the lawsuit settlement against the jail's architects, and the balance from a $20 book in fee fund charged to each inmate.
Singleton said after the quorum court agreed to the plan, he entered into a contract with Stone's firm on May 1, 2012.
Page 3 of 3 - “The bid process for the building addition was handled by Mr. Jeremy Stone of CEA of Hot Springs advised me he would take care of advertising for bids for the construction of the addition,” Singleton wrote.
He said Stone told him bids would be opened at the sheriff's department on Aug. 21, 2012, after Stone advertised the project statewide. Singleton said three bids were received, including a bid of $399,647 from A&R Construction; $269,647.15 from Bobo and Bain Construction of Hope; and, $454,312 from Cossatot Construction, with the contract going to the Hope firm.
Singleton said Bobo and Bain were notified of their bid award on Oct. 15, 2012.
“To my recollection Bobo and Bain started the dirt work in late October and I received the first request for payment on October 25, 2012,” Singleton wrote.
Barron addresses the clothing claim issue by noting that the county sheriff's office did not have a policy regarding the purchase of clothing, but that Singleton had bought $1,919 in clothing, of which he declared $63 to the IRS.
“IRS regulations require that clothing purchased by an employer be reported as taxable income to an employee if it is adaptable to general use as ordinary clothing,” Barron wrote.
She listed $604 for suspenders; $415 for dress pants, shirt, jacket, and tie; and five pair of boots and other items.
Singleton argued that clothing worn by the sheriff or his deputies cannot be considered as “ordinary use” clothing since he and his deputies are on call 24/7. He said the boots were purchases he made in behalf of deputies where he could find the best prices.
“The way the finding is written it looks like I bought five pair of boots for myself; this is not true,” Singleton wrote.
He said the “suspenders” listed at $604 were actually two custom made shoulder holsters which he purchased to replace two he had given to deputies who were short of equipment prior to the beginning of the 2012 budget year.
“I did buy a jacket, dress pants, shirt and tie for attendance in federal court and other official functions, which was not added to my W-2 and I accept responsibility for that,” Singleton wrote. “I also bought three pair of jeans for $63 which was added to my W-2. When I asked if I needed to include the purchase of the jacket, pants, shirt and tie on my 2013 W-2 I received no response.”
He said sheriff's department policy has been completely rewritten to comply with the IRS guidelines.