Harrison County

Taxpayers picked up a supervisor’s bar tab, report says. Attorney says it wasn’t on purpose.

County officials can take a taxi from the airport to a hotel but not from the hotel to a restaurant, a PEER report reminds Harrison County supervisors.
County officials can take a taxi from the airport to a hotel but not from the hotel to a restaurant, a PEER report reminds Harrison County supervisors. AP File

Harrison County supervisors bought alcohol and took taxis to restaurants on the taxpayers’ dime, according to a report from the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.

Board attorney Tim Holleman found that part of PEER’s report particularly vexing, although he didn’t agree with much of the report. It also had recommendations about county work centers, escrow spending and open meetings compliance.

“The press drives me crazy when they mention alcoholic drinks,” Holleman said. “It was one bill with two glasses of wine and a bloody mary.”

He said the supervisor marked the drinks off the bill and turned it in with an expense report, which was processed by a staff member who didn’t notice the drinks were marked off and issued a check for the whole bill.

The report, released to the Legislature on Jan. 8 and to the public Monday, stems from an investigation that began after lawmakers received complaints about supervisors’ spending and compliance with the unit system of government.

PEER found what it said were other violations of state and county policies. For example:

▪  Six times supervisors took cabs from a hotel to a restaurant, a violation of the Department of Finance and Administration travel policy that limits travel by cab to between airports, hotels and conference centers. Holleman said they didn’t know that taking a cab to a restaurant was not an allowable expense.

▪  One supervisor filed a claim for the cost of dinner, drinks, music and dancing and a full day’s per diem for meals.

▪  A supervisor charged a meal to a hotel room, claimed the meal as part of the hotel charge and claimed a full day’s per diem for meals.

▪  A supervisor was reimbursed for an in-room movie.

“Collectively, these items do not represent a large sum of money,” PEER said in its report. “However, taxpayers rightfully expect that all public funds will be properly used in accordance with governing laws and policies.”

Holleman agreed that the total amount in question was relatively small, about $600, but said all were nothing more than oversights. He said supervisors who were improperly reimbursed will pay the money back.

PEER said the county in November began using a credit card system to pay for travel expenses.

“This process streamlines determination of the cost of supervisor travel, provided the reconciliation and assignment of cost is properly performed,” PEER wrote.

In all, Harrison County’s five supervisors spent $73,095 in the last three fiscal years. The 2018 fiscal year is about half over. Of that, District 1 Supervisor Beverly Martin spent $19,402, District 2 Supervisor Angel Kibler-Middleton spent $18,069, District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner spent $350, District 4 Supervisor Kent Jones spent $20,097 and District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco spent $15,177.

While Holleman said he supports oversight of government and the work of PEER, he doesn’t agree with the way it treated the county.

“I don’t think they were fair with criticism in the overall report, quite frankly,” he said. “Obviously when they go through a county with a $122 million budget and find $600 in errors, that needs to be fixed.”

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