Benton Parks and Recreation Department and the Benton Parks Commission have been in the news a great deal in recent weeks and it appears the attention on these entities isn't waning.
Benton City Council has called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday to consider an ordinance repealing the Benton Parks and Recreation Commission, which recently conducted an investigation resulting in the dismissal of one employee and leading later to the announced retirement of the department's director.
The agenda for Tuesday's meeting notes that the council plans to discuss a recent report from the city's auditors concerning the operations of the commission and to consider an ordinance dissolving the panel and thus transferring the commission's authority to the department itself.
According to City Attorney Brent Houston, the auditors have made several recommendations for the department, including the process by which state bids are taken.
In Houston's letter to the aldermen and the commission, he stated the following:
"One of the concerns addressed in this report pertains to what appears to be violations of the state bidding laws. ACA Sec. 14-58-303 sets up the framework for purchases. Unless the city is acquiring professional services (such as engineering services), which does not require competitive bidding, all purchases above $20,000 shall be by competitive bid.
"The city council does have the ability, however, to waive competitive bidding by ordinance for a single purchase which exceeds $20,000 if it chooses to do so. The city commissions do not have this authority. If competitive bidding is not waived, then purchases above $20,000 have to be advertised and sealed bids received.
"For purchases below $20,000, the statute provides that the city council may pass an ordinance to provide for manner in which purchases are to occur. The last such ordinance was Ordinance 27 of 2005. This ordinance requires written quotes for purchases between $1,000 and the $20,000. For purchases between $100 and $1,000, verbal quotes at a minimum are required.
"Other exceptions to following the bidding procedures are contained in ACA Sec. 14-58-104, which exempts purchases of motor fuel, oil and natural gas products from competitive bidding. Additionally, the city does not have to go through the bidding process for the purchase of vehicles when the state procurement office has an established fleet price. This is a thumbnail sketch of how purchases should occur within the city.
"The report covers the time period of Jan. 1, 2011, until the current time. The report speaks for itself as to how many significant purchases were made during this period and what documentation exists that these bidding laws were followed by the department for these purchases. I encourage everyone to read the report and form your own conclusion considering the statements of law above.
"This report has also been given to the police department to consider as part of its investigation of this matter. At this point in time I will remind everyone that no one has been charged with a crime and the presumption of innocence exists.
"At this point, it is up to the commission on how it wishes to proceed. I am, however, requesting that the commission have safeguards be in place to verify that all purchases occur in accordance with the law. It is my understanding the city’s purchasing department does a very good job with purchases for the utility department and the general fund. One possible solution would be for the commission to direct that all future purchases go through the city’s purchasing department rather than it continuing to be run 'in-house.' It is also my understanding this department is ready, willing and able to help. But this is only a suggestion on my part for how to address the compliance deficiencies which exist. Additionally, the auditor made recommendations within the report concerning the handling of cash, fuel purchases, etc. I would encourage the commission to review and consider his recommendations."
Tuesday's meeting will be held at Benton Municipal Complex. It, like all council meetings, is open to the public.