published Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Audit uncovers three violations at sheriff’s office


by Dan Whisenhunt

A Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office employee was suspended for three days after the department’s 2010 audit showed he misused his county purchasing card.

The report just released by the county auditor’s office said property evidence clerk Jim Daughetee purchased items from a vendor, such as evidence bags, totaling $21,886.

He arranged to have the vendors charge the county procurement card at various dates so the purchases wouldn’t appear to exceed the monthly card limit, the report said.

“The effect of this payment arrangement resulted in various violations of state law and county purchasing rules, including the failure to request and obtain public bids and the failure to obtain approval from the County Mayor and/or County Commission prior to the purchase of goods costing in excess of $10,000,” the audit report said.

Sheriff Jim Hammond said Daughetee was given an unpaid three-day suspension after the misuse of the card came to light.

Hammond said “none of it was done in malice.”

The audit also found that the sheriff had slightly exceeded his allowed hiring and that, for the second year in a row, the office was overcharging the public for a variety of records. The report covered July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010.

Hammond didn’t dispute the violations but said they were not intentional and not unusual in a department that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“None of these did we receive anything other than a slap on the hand,” Hammond said Monday. “These are just financial rules.”

The finding that an employee misused a county purchasing card led to an Internal Affairs investigation. The Internal Affairs report compiled in June said a salesperson for the vendor, Memphis-based Huntington Group, pressured Daughetee into staggering the payments so as not to violate purchasing rules.

The sheriff’s office has stopped doing business with the company, according to Capt. Bill Johnson, who oversees Internal Affairs. He said he also took away purchasing power from the property evidence division.

Phillip Wilcox, a co-owner of Huntington Group who joined the company in November, said he had no knowledge of the incident. He said he would like to continue to do business with Hamilton County.

Among the other audit findings:

• The sheriff’s office hired more employees than spelled out in his “letter of agreement” with the county mayor’s office. During fiscal 2010, 369 employees were authorized but the sheriff employed 372 and exceeded his salary budget.

Hammond said he hired to fill positions after some employees retired with substantial leave time. Those people were being paid even though they weren’t working, and he could not leave jobs unfilled, Hammond said.

In the audit report the sheriff’s office promised to send a letter of explanation to the county mayor and auditor in the future.

• The audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, found the sheriff’s office overcharged the public for accident reports, background checks, mug shots, phone records and civil process requests.

Hammond said all of the items have been corrected.

County Auditor Bill McGriff said while the auditor reports compliance violations when they occur, it’s up to the county mayor and county commission to decide if there are any consequences for those violations.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Commission Chairman Larry Henry said they had not seen the audit report and could not comment.

Overcharging

A county audit report dated Dec. 27, 2010, found that the Sheriff’s Office overcharged for certain records. In that same report, the sheriff described how he would bring the office into compliance with state law. Sheriff Jim Hammond said all of these changes have been implemented.

• Accident, incident and arrest reports

Previous charge: $6 per report to out-of-state requests

Now: 15 cents per page black and white and 50 cents per color copy

• Background checks

Previous charge: $15 for each background check report

Now: Background checks have been discontinued except in rare circumstances, when the charge will be 15 cents per page for black and white copies, 50 cents for color copies

• Mug shots

Previous charge: $3 per mug shot to commercial requesters

Now: 50 cents per color copy; free if mug shot is e-mailed

• Phone records and jail video records

Previous charge: $25 for first hour plus $20 for each additional hour of recording

Now: First hour of recording is free. After first hour, salary of person making copy will be used and divided by quarter-hour increments to assess charges.

• Civil process requests

Previous charge: $30 for out-of-state agencies

Now: $22 for all civil process requests, an amount authorized by state law

Source: Hamilton County auditor’s office

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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