Audit Questions Conflicts Of Interest In Small Town

Audit: Town Bought Cars, Cleaning Service From Council Members' Companies

State auditors are raising concerns about expenditures and apparent conflicts of interest in the town of Ingalls in Madison County.

The State Board of Accounts found the town reimbursed former Town Administrator Bill Rhodes, who was fired early this year, $443 for meal expenses at restaurants close to the town, 6News' Kara Kenney reported.

Auditors found although the town has a policy on food reimbursement, it does not authorize local lunch or breakfast meeting expenses for reimbursement.

Auditors also found Rhodes was reimbursed $893 for mileage on his personal vehicle, even though he did not fill out the required mileage claim form.

The town clerk treasurer had little to say about Rhodes expenses.

"Well, I plead the Fifth on that," said Ingalls Clerk Treasurer Kip Golden. "A lot of meetings we didn't find out about until after they already happened."

The audit also showed that town employees did not file conflict of interest disclosure statements in several situations.

The town purchased several vehicles for $7,900 from a local used car dealership owned and operated by Town Council member Tim Green.

Green said the town spent $7,800 total for three cars -- a 1998 Chevy Tahoe, a 2000 Chevy Cavalier and a 2000 Ford Ranger pickup truck.

Green said he did not charge a dock fee, delivery fee, cleanup fee or gas, and said he did not make any profit off the deal.

"I don't think anyone could get the price we got," he said. "I think we're doing quite well handling money for the town."

The town also paid for cleaning services to a company owned and operated by another town council member, the audit found, and the town paid more than $11,000 to a trash disposal vendor, the same place Town Council President Doug Dowden works.

Dowden told 6News that council members are not getting special treatment.

"No, not in the least," he said. "We make a small amount of money for what we do."

Dowden added that he recuses himself from votes involving trash service.

6News asked if the town needs to do a better job at shopping around for the best price.

"I think we shop around when we need to shop around," said Dowden, who pointed out the council bid out for tree removal and building the town's new water tower.

The clerk treasurer told 6News the town bids out only for purchases in excess of $45,000, which is not often for the town of 1,600 people.

Town employees said the appearance of conflicts of interest is hard to avoid.

"I think a lot of it is small town. We have problems finding people to fill our boards," Dowden said.

Dowden, Golden and Green all said they were pleased with the audit, but said they plan to review their policy when it comes to meal reimbursement.

Auditors also pointed out overdrawn cash balances in the town's motor vehicle highway and animal funds, and the town did not file its personnel report with the state, which is required by law and was pointed out in a previous audit.

More Information: Ingalls Town Audit