The Jackson County prosecutor’s office is reiterating the results of an audit released last week – that when the county’s COMBAT was under County Executive Frank White Jr. tax money was misspent, and spending often didn’t go through proper channels such as approval by COMBAT managers.
“This report is accurate,” Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker wrote to county legislators Wednesday. “Despite ‘numerous allegations of errors,’ BKD has confirmed that the report reflects information given to them by the County Executive. Further, BKD has confirmed not one of their recommendations stated in the audit report should be changed.”
White’s office criticized the report when it came out last week and called for its retraction. Baker and the CPA firm that did the report, BKD LLP, have made it clear that it won’t be retracted. Baker hired BKD to look into COMBAT once she assumed control of it in mid-2018, after a lengthy fight in court.
The audit says:
• The county executive’s office for years underestimated expected revenue from the county’s quarter-cent COMBAT sales tax for anti-drug and anti-violence efforts. Then when taxes came in higher, the excess was spent by the executive in a variety of areas. In 2017, the audit says, that overage was $1.28 million, “for which only $133,946 went to appropriations set forth by COMBAT’s approved funding model.”
• Several county employees whose jobs do not appear to be related to COMBAT have been paid out of COMBAT money. The audit says that’s been sharply curtailed since Baker took over.
• Auditors found $2.22 million in COMBAT money spent on jail cell doors. That was beyond the 15 percent of COMBAT money that automatically goes to corrections. “We do not contend that properly working cell doors fall outside of the intent of the Anti-Crime Tax,” the audit says. “However, no one in COMBAT management was alerted, allowed to provide input or approved of the funds being diverted from anti-violence programs …”
• White’s office bought a 2016 Chevy Colorado pickup for White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, for $33,945. Taking the money from six budget line items and keeping each below $10,000 was thought to be to “bypass legislative approval,” the audit said. Those appropriations included $4,869 from COMBAT, which was “outside of the mission or purpose of COMBAT.”
In its criticism of the audit, White’s office pointed to one large, inaccurate figure – that 2018 COMBAT revenues were $26.37 million. BKD, in a letter on Wednesday, stressed again that its figures – taken from the executive’s office – were as of early May. COMBAT’s annual audit in late June put the revenue figure at $24.63 million.
“Careful consideration was provided to each of the concerns raised by the County Executive’s Chief of Staff,” BKD wrote to COMBAT on Wednesday. “We have concluded ... that our agreed-upon procedures report will not be retracted or supplemented, and can be relied upon by … COMBAT management, the County Finance and Audit Committee and the County Legislators.”
White’s office also took issue with not seeing the audit before it was released to the public. Baker said that was a sound decision.
“The public deserves to read reports that are paid for with tax dollars and about a public function,” she wrote to legislators. “It has been a practice of this County Executive’s Office to control information by redaction, delay, and lawsuits. This is why the full report was made public.”