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Sheriff’s patrol car purchase discussion continues

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Commissioners held a called meeting on Sept. 22. Items on the agenda were a proclamation for Bernice High-Green, the approval of a request from Jimmy and Laura Faircloth to change the zoning of a parcel of land on Ga. Highway 27 from residential to commercial, changes to the 401(a) Senior Management Plan, discussion of vehicles with Sheriff Pete Smith, a resolution condemning he Sheriff’s purchase of unauthorized vehicles, and the approval of contracts for demolition services by Tommy McCurley.
The first three items on the agenda were quickly approved before the board invited the sheriff to discuss the unaccounted-for vehicle. After County Administrator Bill Twomey gave the board a recap of the circumstances of the vehicle purchase, advising the board that they need to make a decision on whether or not to purchase the vehicle and, if so, how the vehicle will be paid for.
Smith advised the board that a purchase order number had been issued for the car and that the vehicle was bought as an emergency purchase to replace a car that had been taken off the road. He apologized for the confusion, saying, “We’re certainly not trying to do anything behind anybody’s back or anything else … Mr. [Comissioner Clay] Jones said ‘Who ordered it?’ Well, I didn’t order it.” Smith went on to say that, though he was not sure who had ordered the vehicle, he would assume responsibility.
Twomey stated that Sumter County project manager, Bernie Merritt, had canceled the order for the car and that Melinda Davis, of the sheriff’s office was aware of the cancellation.
“Mike Davis said he got a personal call from you, ordering the car as an emergency car,” Said board chairman, Randy Howard.
“No, sir,” Smith responded. “I never talked to Mike Davis.”
According to an email sent from Mike Davis, Fleet Manager Government Sales, Don Jackson Chrysler Dodge Jeep, to Twomey, Davis said he spoke with the sheriff “and he told me to get the car coming it was an emergency replacement.”
Twomey clarified for the Times-Recorder that according to sources at the sheriff’s office, corroborated by Mike Davis, the sheriff phoned Davis on June 25 to order the car which was delivered on June 26. Striping and equipping the car began on June 27 and it went into service on July 13.
“The question now is, how are we going to pay for it,” asked Howard. “For one thing, that budget year has ended. Now, we’ve moved into another budget year. The SPLOST accounts have already been spent this year for the other patrol cars so now, we have to make a decision on how we’re going to deal with this.”
Smith asked Howard how much money is currently in the SPLOST fund, saying, “We were allocated $750,000 for five years.” Howard informed Smith that he was not sure of the amount of SPLOST funds currently being held.
Smith went on to say that only two cars had been purchased between the 2013 and 2014 budgets and that the board had said earlier that the sheriff’s office would receive vehicles. “I’m sorry that this car got ordered, but I didn’t order it. I didn’t issue the [purchase order (PO)],” he said.
Commissioner Mark Waddell asked Smith why the car had not been returned when it was discovered that a mistake had been made. “If somebody delivers something to me that I didn’t order…” he said.
Smith responded, “We had a PO number that was granted to us to get that car,” Smith said. “It was at a time when we were scrambling to try to find cars … I’m sorry it happened. Take it out of my budget. Do whatever you need to do to pay for it.”
Twomey also clarified some information about the purchase order for the Times-Recorder. He said a PO was issued for a different vehicle to a different vendor, “a totally different transaction.”
Twomey said the original PO 56960 (the cancelled PO that the sheriff referred to in a meeting) was cancelled because it was originally coded to the wrong expense account. It was re-issued (PO 57002) coded to the correct account. “Neither the first nor the second had anything to do with the car the sheriff ordered,” Twomey said.
Twomey said the sheriff ordered the car from Don Jackson.   Both purchase orders show Akins Ford as the vendor. That purchase was requested by Pete Smith on April 6. The corrected PO was on May 14.
Waddell reminded Smith that the funds could not be taken from last year’s budget or the current budget. “Well, let’s send it back, then,” Smith said.
County finance director Janis Jarvis said that she had spoken with Bill Krenson, a local CPA with the firm that does the county audits, who said that funds from the current fiscal year could not be used to purchase the vehicle.
Commissioner Clay Jones asked what the consequences might be if the vehicle was returned. Smith told him, “We’re still going to have to pay them for the time that we used the car.”
County Attorney Kim Reid advised the board that an arrangement would have to be made with the dealership to assess a fair value for the time that the vehicle has been in use.
Jones asked if it may be possible for the dealership to hold the car until it is time for vehicles to be purchased in the current fiscal year, and Twomey stated that it might be possible, though he expressed concerns about where the money owed for the time that the vehicle has been in use would come from.
Twomey then went on to remind the board that he is the one who should be notified when an emergency purchase is needed so that he can ensure that the proper procedures are followed.
Reid suggested that, since the title for the vehicle had not yet been issued to the sheriff’s office, it may be legally possible to reach an agreement with the dealership to retroactively rent the vehicle for the time that has passed since the vehicle was delivered and conduct a legitimate purchase of the vehicle when the current budget takes effect. Reid suggested that Twomey and Smith contact the dealership to determine whether or not such an agreement can be reached.
Smith agreed to reach out to the dealership to see if that might be possible, saying, “I think that’s a reasonable solution.”
Twomey suggested that the county hold a training session for all employees to teach individuals the proper steps that need to be taken in order to make an emergency purchase and avoid similar incidents in the future.
The board moved on to the next item on the agenda, a resolution condemning the sheriff’s purchase of the unauthorized vehicle. Twomey stated that the board wanted to identify the incident as a violation of purchasing policy and issue an official reprimand. Reid asked the board to review the resolution and ensure that the tone reflects the board’s intentions.
Twomey advised the board that, if the board receives a citation in the upcoming audit, the state will require an explanation of the circumstances that led to the citation and the board will have to show that they have taken steps to ensure that the problem does not recur.
When this discussion concluded, the board approved three contracts between the county and Tommy McCurley for demolition services.
Reid informed the board that there would be no need for a closed session and the meeting was adjourned.