The city leadership of Twin Groves engaged in questionable financial practices according to a Legislative Audit, but Arkansas State Police investigators found no "criminal intent" behind these practices, according to 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden.
A Legislative Audit of Twin Groves governmental operations from 2006 to 2008 was released recently, listing more than $108,000 in "unauthorized and undocumented" allocations of city funds, about $105,000 of which helped flesh out the payroll at a Twin Groves daycare operating under the umbrella of the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Development Arkansas Better Chance preschool facility.
Twin Groves Mayor Theodore Brown said on Friday that when he took office in 2007, replacing Cornelius Tyus, the practice of subsidizing the state-run preschool facility with city funds had been well established. A problem with this practice uncovered in the Legislative Audit and scrutinized by ASP investigators, Vaden said, was that some funding streams used to pay daycare employees were used inappropriately "outside of their earmarks."
Though not immediatly constituting illegal use of the city funds, this practice remains inappropriate, Vaden said, and will have to be remedied if Twin Groves operations are to continue under color of law.
"The investigators found no criminal intent because the money was spent for a governmental pupose - and probably a legitamiate purpose — but it can’t be spent out of that fund," Vaden said.
Also drawing the attention of Legislative auditors and ASP investigators was $12,854 in city funds spent at Walmart, including $141 spent on movies, $6,525 spent on food, $1,438 spent on household items, $286 spent on clothing and $218 spent on children’s toys.
Marcus said that city officials had explained to investigators that these purchases were made to further operations at the preschool, and no cause was found to doubt this as no documentation of where these items were sent or how they were used was found to exist.
"We weren’t sure who made the purchases or where the purchased items went," Vaden said. "We were told that they were regularly doing things like that for the daycare ... and the investigators followed that trail as far as they could, but in some instances they weren’t sure even of who made the purchases."
This lack of documentation, Vaden said, left his office, auditors and ASP investigators with both no reason to believe that "a loaf of bread bought with city funds" ended up on a private kitchen table instead of a public daycare’s and no reason to believe that it didn’t.
"Receipts weren’t being kept up with, and I think what happened (happened because) we were set up to be audited every three years, which is really too long; three years is a long time to keep up with paperwork," Brown said on Friday. ... "The city council and mayor would make decisions for (the) preschool. ... They would have to borrow money, and they would always pay it back. That’s the way it was set up before I took office: that the city would step in and help and they would pay it back."
As evidence didn’t indicate that a remedy to the problem would include criminal proceedings, Vaden issued a letter to Twin Groves officials warning that if city practices continue to invite question, a remedy of some sort would be effected.
"While I have determined that no criminal charges will be filed, please do not misinterpret my decision to in any way condone the activity," Vaden states in the letter. "In fact, I think it is safe to say that the poor business practices of the city officials of Twin Groves have fallen far short of the standards that the public deserves. I realize that most of the errors and bad decisions took place prior to your taking office, but you and the other city employees should take these investigations as fair warning that future mistakes of this kind will not be tolerated. This type of negligence or dereliction of duty could easily fall into the category of misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance of office. If this type of failure to protect public funds should continue, then my office will certainly explore all of the legal options available including the removal of the appropriate city officials."
Brown said on Friday that any impropriety during his term or Tyus’ was confined to improper documentation, adding that with a city budget "that just barely keeps our lights on" there was little to be illegally skimmed even if a city official did chose to do so.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin contributed to this story. Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1238. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)