Supervisor may have violated county procedures

Published 12:10 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

NATCHEZ — Repairs to the Kingston Community Center ordered by District 2 Supervisor Henry Watts in late March without standard approval from other Adams County supervisors apparently bent purchase laws and resulted in two bills being paid for a duplicated service.

Work Watts ordered on the old Kingston school’s kitchen, windows and doors funded by the maintenance budget was performed in late March almost simultaneously with work ordered by the recreation department, which is headed by Watts’ District 2 supervisor challenger David Carter.

According to other supervisors and county employees, the work at the recreational facility was not voted on by the board and did not follow the county’s purchasing procedure.

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As a result, work on the windows was paid for twice because it had already been contracted out through the recreation department when Watts independently hired a separate contractor to perform the same work.

Carter said the recreation department, which manages its own budget of approximately $57,000, bought approximately 29 windows from Quality Glass and paid a contractor to install windows at the facility before work funded by the maintenance department started.

The recreation department paid the contractor $300 for labor and paid $229 to Quality Glass for material, Carter said.

Carter said not every window was replaced, but the ones in bad shape were replaced, cleaned and caulked.

In addition to window improvements, the recreation department had purchased paint and worked with inmates to paint the facility, purchased doors and got the maintenance department to install them, and purchased air-conditioning units for the facility, Carter said.

Watts then directed the maintenance department to purchase windows and labor from Quality Glass for $883, according an invoice from the Adams County accounting department.

A Quality Glass invoice from March 31 says the bill for $833, which included $400 for labor, was paid for by a court order in May.

Purchasing Clerk Frances Bell said in addition to the Quality Glass work, the maintenance department funded $4,945 of work for the facility’s kitchen, including flooring, countertops and cabinetwork. A purchase order signed by maintenance director Johnny Williams was used for the kitchen upgrades.

As a result of a situation Carter called a “miscommunication,” two Adams County departments — recreation and maintenance — made orders to Quality Glass to replace windows at the facility.

Carter said some of the windows had cracks in them after the recreation window work was completed, and the second round of work paid for by the maintenance budget fixed them.

“Some of (the windows) had hairline cracks … But (the job) looked complete to us so we paid (the contractor),” Carter said. “There were probably a few more windows that needed to be fixed.”

Bell said the Quality Glass work funded by the maintenance budget was completed before a purchase order was made, which violates purchasing procedure.

“That’s an automatic (audit) write-up,” Bell said.

Because the purchase did not follow procedure, the county had to pay the bill with a court order because of an “error or failure … to abide by the purchasing law,” the court order said.

Board President Darryl Grennell said he suggested Watts pay the bill with a court order because the vendor, Quality Glass, provided the service in good faith.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said court orders are usually used to pay vendors for a purchase in an emergency situation.

Watts, who did not return repeated phone calls Thursday, Friday and from previous weeks, said in a text message Friday that court order payments are a frequent occurrence.

Bell said procedure requires any purchase more than $100 — excluding services — to go through the purchasing clerk. The purpose of a purchase order is to confirm the department paying the bill has room in its budget to pay the bill.

Williams said the maintenance department did not budget for the Kingston improvements.

“(The Kingston improvements) did come out of the maintenance budget, and at the time I had a little problem with that because I thought it should have come out of (the) recreation (budget),” Williams said.

“It wasn’t something that we budgeted for that year. It was just something I assume needed to be done at the time,” he said.

Carter said the second Quality Glass invoice, which the recreation department did not approve, was originally sent to the recreation department. Carter said he sent the invoice to Watts and Grennell with a note explaining the recreation department had already awarded the same materials and labor service to another vendor.

“It didn’t feel right to pay a bill twice,” Carter said.

The note attached to the invoice from Carter to Watts dated April 6 said the recreation department left two messages on Watts’ phone March 23 and March 25 to inform him the work was going on and clear up the mix-up.

“(The duplicated service) was a phenomenal display of lack in communication,” Carter said.

Grennell said he first learned the maintenance budget was funding improvements at the Kingston Community Center after the work was completed when Watts called him to ask how to pay the bill without a purchase order.

Campbell said individual supervisors do not typically have the authority to buy equipment without a vote from the board.

Campbell said the unit system of government, which the board uses, limits the authority of individual supervisors.

Under the beat system, supervisors could hire contractors on their own, Campbell said. But he said Adams County citizens voted to switch to a unit system of government in the early 1990s.

“Our abilities come from the vote of three or more,” Campbell said.

Grennell said he has personally never individually sought to do work in the county without a vote from the board.

“Back in the old days (on the beat system) supervisors use to hire contractors and do work,” Grennell said.

Now, if a repair needs to be made, Grennell said the normal procedure would be to go through the purchasing clerk, who would call vendors for quotes and choose the best price.

“(Contracts) should be brought up in board minutes,” Grennell said.

Campbell said emergency maintenance issues could be exceptions to the rule.

After phone calls to Watts were unreturned last week, he commented in a text message last Saturday about the authority of supervisors to order maintenance work at recreational facilities.

“All of the (recreational) facilities are county owned and it is the supervisors’ responsibility to make sure they are maintained,” Watts said in the text message.

“The maintenance head either does the repairs or hires contractor to do it.”

Williams said a supervisor also instructed him to change the locks of the Kingston facility two or three times around the time the work was being done to the facility.

Williams said he was not sure which supervisor gave him the order, so he did not want to give a name.

Carter said when the recreation department added new doors, the locks were changed and then changed shortly after again.

Williams said the same day he went to change the locks, air conditioning units were being installed.

“I didn’t understand myself why (the locks were changed), but I don’t question what I (am told to) do,” Williams said.

Watts said in a June 6 meeting he got the maintenance department to add doorknobs and locks to the new doors to replace the old padlocks because the padlocks resembled a prison.

After inviting residents to visit the Kingston facility, Watts referenced the funding source of the improvements at the meeting.

“The only thing that came out (the) recreation (budget) was the air conditioning,” Watts said. “The rest of it is (from the) maintenance (budget).”

Carter said the recreation department in recent years has spent between $15,000 and $20,000 of its budget on park improvements, rotating the capital improvements to one of the county’s eight recreational facilities each year. The department had planned on performing improvements to the Kingston facility since last year, he said.