Cross for the defense
Lawrence commission chief tries to explain financial transactions to doubtful colleagues
By Nancy Glasscock
MOULTON — Lawrence County Commission Chairman Bradley Cross said $300,000 in certificates of deposit recently discovered by commissioners at a Decatur bank were purchased several years ago at Union Planters Bank.
Union Planters in Moulton transferred paperwork for the CDs to Regions Bank in Decatur when the banks merged, Cross said.
However, Commissioner John Terry said the CDs were dated September 2006 and January 2007. He said he and commissioners Harold LouAllen and Alma Whitlow, all elected in late 2006, were never told the CDs existed. Mose Jones, who has been a commissioner since 1986, said he had no knowledge of the CDs, and administrators were not authorized to buy CDs without the County Commission’s approval.
“Any time you’re going to take out a CD to move money around, the commission must approve of it,” Jones said. “We are the elected officials, and we are responsible for the money.”
The CDs were signed by former administrators Karen Harrison and Linda Harville, and were in Lawrence County’s name, Terry said. Harrison’s and Harville’s contracts were terminated after an FBI investigation revealed a clock radio with a hidden camera installed in the commission office.
Harville and Harrison haven’t denied they installed the camera, commissioners said. Whitlow said commissioners don’t know if CDs exist in other cities.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to check on,” she said.
Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said buying CDs in other cities isn’t unusual. Brasfield said county commissions often authorize administrators to handle varying aspects of daily county business, without the commission’s approval.
“The fact that the county administrators did that isn’t inherently unusual in the operation of county government,” he said. “The question would be: Was there authorization at some point given for that?”
Arguing and finger-pointing ensued at a recent County Commission meeting when commissioners accused Cross of tricking them into approving Harville’s $2,762.50 attorney’s fee.
During the debate over legal bills, Terry said the CDs had been discovered, and that Harville wrote herself a check for $27,000 before leaving office last month. Terry also said $100,000 for courthouse improvements was misdirected to the county airbase.
Cross offered explanations for the allegations.
$27,000 in comp time?
He said the $27,000 was compensation for 750 hours of comp time, two weeks salary and vacation time.
The county’s personnel handbook, however, says salaried employees are not entitled to overtime pay, regardless of the number of hours they work in a week.
In addition, the manual says if salaried employees work outside a normal workday to attend meetings or perform other work, it is considered part of their job.
The executive director of the commissions association, Buddy Sharpless said certain provisions in Harville’s contract could have entitled her to the $27,000.
“I have spoken to some folks about that, and it was an issue of whether or not the person that got that money was entitled to all of it,” Sharpless said. “It’s going to be up to the commission and the county attorney to look at the contract and personnel policies and see if she was entitled to it.”
Jones said Cecil Caine, the county’s attorney, is reviewing Harville’s contract. Caine was out of the office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Cross said the $100,000 was transferred from the courthouse to the airport to fund a construction project last summer. A federal grant will fund the airport project, allowing the money to be transferred back to the courthouse, he said.
Recent disagreements between Cross and other commissioners stem from the FBI investigation and controversy over the illegal monitoring system seized by agents.
Terry responded to a comment Cross made in a local newspaper.
“A member of the commission recently refers to the people of Lawrence County as looking like scum,” Terry said in a prepared statement. “I grew up in Lawrence County. This is my home, and I can say to anybody anywhere that the people of Lawrence County being aware of what is going on in the county government is a good thing.”
Terry said the commission’s approval of an independent review of county business by a Birmingham firm, Forensic Strategic Solutions, is necessary because state examiners don’t conduct a full audit.
State examiners never cited the purchase of a clock radio with a hidden camera from the Alabama Spy Shop in Madison.
Cross said the independent review is a waste of money because the county will be audited by the state in less than 60 days.
“I’m sure as long as Mr. Cross has been on the commission, he is aware that the Examiners of Public Accounts do not do a complete audit, but rather do spot checks and procedural examinations,” Terry said.
Jones said county officials are working to correct past problems.
“We know that our county is in a tragic situation, and we are working to do everything we can to get it back on the right track,” he said.
Jones said despite inadequate training, county accountant Peggy Dawson was able to fill a considerable gap.
“She’s been there 100 percent, trying to help the commission,” he said. “She’s doing a good job trying to get things done.”
Jones said Harrison trained Dawson.
The county has received 17 applicants for county administrator and will continue to receive applications until Monday, Whitlow said.
Applicants should possess a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business administration or have equivalent experience in county government.
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