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Lawrence dealings under fire
Ex-administrator wrote self check for $27,000; $300,000 in CDs stashed in Decatur bank; personal lawyer's fees paid?

By Nancy Glasscock
nglasscock@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Former Lawrence County Administrator Linda Harville wrote herself a check for $27,000 before she left office late last month, Commissioner John Terry said at a County Commission meeting Monday.

He also revealed the commission has $300,000 in certificates of deposit that former employees placed at a Decatur bank without commission approval.

Another $100,000 was allegedly misdirected from courthouse improvement to the air base; however, the airport manager said after the meeting, the money never arrived.

These revelations and allegations -- plus more — were part of a tense exchange between commissioners and Chairman Bradley Cross.

Terry made the allegations against Har-ville as he and Cross argued about a legal bill. Commissioners accused Cross of tricking them into paying Harville's personal attorney's fees.

The commission unanimously approved a motion by Mose Jones to write the attorney and ask
for the money back, but Terry said the check had cleared the bank.

Harville's and Assistant Administrator Karen Harrison's contracts were terminated last month after an FBI investigation revealed a secret monitoring system in the commission building.

Harville and Harrison admitted installing the monitoring system, commissioners said. Harrison has repeatedly declined comment on the matter. Harville hung up on a Daily reporter who called Monday seeking comment.

Cross said Harville could have paid herself the $27,000 as compensation.

"A $27,000 paycheck?" Terry asked.

Terry also said commissioners recently discovered $300,000 in two certificates of deposit at Regions Bank in Decatur. Harville and Harrison signed the CDs, but the CDs are in the Lawrence County Commission's name, Terry said.

"Why do you have to drive to Decatur to buy a CD?" he asked.

Whitlow said the bank notified commissioners of the CDs. Otherwise, the commission wouldn't have known about the money.

"We received a notice that one of them was coming due, and we didn't know anything about them," she said.

An additional $100,000 for courthouse improvements had instead been allocated for the county airbase, Terry said.

Jim Achord, airport manager, said the airport hadn't received the $100,000, and that he didn't know anything about the money.

Aging program unpaid

A spokesperson for the local aging program said more than $11,000 hadn't been invoiced to the program for July, August and September.

Whitlow presented what she said appeared to be three different bills of $2,762.50 each to Harville's attorney's law firm, Sirote and Permute.

Two of the bills had been voided, she said.

The bills were dated Sept. 18, Sept, 13 and Oct. 31. Whitlow said the dates on the bills are apparently incorrect because the bills were all generated in September or early October.

Cross said all three documents could represent one bill, but that he didn't know why the bills would show different dates.

He said the commission unanimously voted to pay the attorney fees, but commissioners said they didn't realize what they were approving. Whitlow read aloud Cross' motion from a previous meeting authorizing payment to Sirote and Permute.

The motion didn't specify why the commission would pay an attorney or which employee the attorney was representing.

"You didn't explain what it was," Commissioner Harold LouAllen said. "You kind of sneaked it in on us."

LouAllen said the commission would have balked on paying the attorney fees if members had known what they were paying.

Terry agreed.

'Not a legal county bill'

"This is not a legal county bill to pay her attorney," he said.

Cross said commissioners knew what they were voting on, and that a motion to pay an attorney should have raised a "red flag" if commissioners had questions.

Commissioners said they were unable to review the audiotape of the meeting where they voted to pay the attorney. All commission meetings are recorded, but the tape from the meeting in question was blank, Commissioner Mose Jones said.

The commission paused periodically during Monday's meeting to be sure the meeting was being recorded.

Harville was to retire Oct. 1, but the Lawrence County Commission voted during a special-called meeting Sept. 24 to place her and Harrison on administrative leave while officials terminated their contracts. FBI agents seized a clock radio with a hidden camera from the commission office and other equipment that was part of a monitoring system from Harrison's office in September.

Private audit

After more than eight years with the same administration, commissioners said they want to give the county a fresh start. They unanimously voted to hire a Birmingham firm, Forensic Strategic Solutions, to conduct a review of county finances. Alton Sizemore, a certified public accountant with the firm, said the cost for the review would vary between $125 an hour to $275 an hour.

The business specializes in fraud examination, forensic accounting, looking at unexplained variances and internal controls, Sizemore said. The review would be complete in 30 to 45 days, he said.

Cross said approving the review is a waste of money.

"I just don't see throwing that kind of money away, when we're going to be audited by the state here in less than 60 days," he said.

But the county hasn't had a complete audit in 10 to 15 years, Terry said. He said if the county had had "a full audit" Examiners of Public Accounts would have discovered the purchase from the Alabama Spy Shop in Madison for the clock radio.

Medical leave

With Harville and Harrison no longer in office, Peggy Dawson, an accountant, and Beronica Warren, payroll clerk, are managing daily county business. Warren is taking two weeks' family medical leave.

She appeared to be near tears as she told the commission she wasn't able to do her job last week, when the Sheriff's Department scanned hard drives of four computers in the commission building.

The commission approved a motion by LouAllen at a special-called meeting to allow the department to sweep the building for more monitoring devices and to scan the hard drives of the computers.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Warren said. "I haven't been allowed to do my job ... I would appreciate it if you would give me the chance to recuperate from this, and then I can do my job."

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