City of Camdenton raises concern over transparency of county CARES funds distribution

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Camden County Courthouse.

Last week, Camden County released information, detailing the use of county CARES funds throughout the community. Of the $5.4 million, $2.3 million went back out into the community through distributions to school districts, various taxing entities, nonprofits and small businesses. The county released a brief breakdown of where the money went, including $215,429 going to municipalities. Though the county provided a broad description of the fund distribution, Camdenton City Administrator Jeff Hooker says they are frustrated with the lack of total disclosure as to where each dollar was spent.

This concern was brought forth after the denial of $31,690 to the city for the purchase of car computers and new handheld radios for police officers. Hooker, alongside Camdenton Mayor John McNabb, said that they were told funds for these items would be approved for the city and went forth with purchase. However, a letter was later sent to the city, explaining that the funds had in fact been denied. The letter said that CARES funds had been depleted. 

When asked about this confirmation of funds, Camden County Auditor Jimmy Laughlin provided dozens of emails between the county and city, showing that there was no documented approval of the funds. 

Laughlin says that the city’s disapproval came down to a lack of documentation and justification for the purchases. Both county and state officials needed documentation of the following aspects from the city to justify spending CARES funds: 

-COVID-19 related necessities for the purchase

-Support and evidence/justification for the city’s need fo the purchase

-Explain how the current equipment was not capable to fulfill the needs of the pandemic

-Was it previously or currently in the city’s budget?

-Is it in line with the city’s purchasing policy?

-Is the equipment bid or through a state contract?

Following the request for this information, Laughlin advised the city that they had carved out an encumberment for the purchase for once the documentation was confirmed. 

An added point of contention was the awarded funds to the county for Sheriff’s Department radios totaling $853,000. Hooker raised concern that this amount was unbalanced compared to only $6,000 being requested for similar equipment for the city which was denied.

Laughlin says that the documentation process for the county to get approval from the state for these radios took over 4 months. This was confirmed by Camden County Sheriff’s Office Captain Chris Twitchel, who filled out the paperwork. The purchase of the radios was justified after multiple points were raised, including:

-The old radios could not reach all areas of the county effectively

-The old radios did not include encrypted protection to shield HIPAA laws during usage

Camdenton did eventually send in documentation for justification of their purchase, but not until November 4. The deadline to write checks for CARES funds was December 30, though Laughlin did give the city a deadline of November 5 to hand in the documents. 

The documentation provided by the city did comply with the needed documentation previously listed. However, on these documents there are written amendments requested by the county to further justify the needs. This includes questions as to the need for laptop cradles, which made up $2535 of the needed cost, and concerns with the listed mobile license which did not include a quote from provided Omnigo Software. 

Hooker raised further concern with the fact that the letter of denial, signed by Camden County 2nd District Commissioner Don Williams, only cited a lack of funds as their reasoning and did not mention this failure of documentation. 

Laughlin says that both lack of funds and documentation were involved with the denial. Though funds were encumbered for later use, these funds were quickly used up to aid non-profits and other county services in the later months of the process. Laughlin says that the letter was mistakenly written, failing to mention that both aspects were the reasoning. 

Hooker was not able to supply any written documentation to prove the county had otherwise guaranteed these CARES funds before the city purchased them. Williams also did not provide comment to the situation.

Moving forward, Hooker says that they are asking the county to be more transparent with their CARES funds distribution. He says the current figures released need to be more fully transparent, as to show where each dollar spent went. He says the city is concerned with the overwhelming dollar amount sent to county services in contrast to the municipalities. Laughlin says the county may decide to require a sunshine law request to obtain this information once the audit of the fund distribution is complete.