Benton Parks Commission suspends McCormack, Smith with pay

Benton Parks Department Director Curtis McCormack and assistant Kitty Smith have been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the completion of an investigation into accounting practices associated with operation of the concession stand in Tyndall Park during 2011. The Parks Commission met for a special meeting Tuesday night specifically called to determine what course of action to take in light of an independent accountant's report indicating a deficit of $6,445 in unaccounted funds. The amount in question was derived by a calculation of expected revenue from sales at the concession stand minus expenses. A lack of transactional receipts for purchases made for supplies was the main impetus for the investigation.
The accountant review, conducted by Yoakum, Lovell and Co. of Benton, pointed out a lack of paperwork and receipts for transactions related to the cash box used for concession stand operations. The report stated that purchases were made for concession stand supplies by Smith using her personal checking account or debit card. Smith would then reimburse the purchase using cash from the concession stand fund. City Attorney Brent Houston told commissioners Tuesday night that the report did not focus on potential theft or embezzlement but rather on procedures used for transactional accounting.
Smith told the commission, "I'm willing to answer any questions." Smith also spoke to the assumption of the accountant's report that a 100 percent markup was used to sell items at the concession stand after they had been purchased. The accountant's report used costs from Walmart for items purchased. Smith stated, "Ben E. Keith was our supplier. We didn't have a 100 percent markup on everything. We bought M&Ms for 65 cents and sold them for $1. Pickles were 83 cents and we sold them for $1. We bought cups, straws, paper bowls, condiments and many other items."
Smith said that she takes full responsibility for the situation with the concession fund. She said, "I'm at fault. I didn't look at this as running a business. I'm here for a service to the kids at the ballpark, not a profit. I've said this to anyone I've talked to. There is not $6,445 missing from anywhere. We served team drinks out of there. After every game, we give the kids on each team a free drink. We didn't track how many we gave away. If an umpire had been working all day in the summer heat, we gave them something to drink. If they were hungry, we gave them a hot dog. If I'm at fault or a criminal for giving away a Dr. Pepper or a hot dog, then so be it. This is my life. The people in this room who know me understand how much this means to me."
McCormack told the commission of the difficulty finding a group to run the concession stand. He said, "The Kiwanis Club ran it for 40 years. The Benton Girls Softball Association ran it a couple of years ago. We tried contracting it out but the service was poor. Others we have talked to said they couldn't run the stand because there is no money in it. We need to find a group or non-profit organization to run the stand. This incident has embarrassed our department, our mayor and our city. The parks department needs to get out of the concession stand business." McCormack stated the parks department took over the concession stand because no other option was available.
The commission went into executive session to discuss possible personnel actions to take in light of the report and comments made by McCormack, Smith and Houston. After approximately 45 minutes of deliberation, the commission returned and Commission Chairman Dr. Bill Simmons stated a decision had been made to place McCormack and Smith on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. By voice vote, the motion was approved. Commissioners Gene Moss, Missy Bishop, Jasen Kelly and Larry Neal voted for the action. Commissioners Steve Jordan and Richard Welch were not present at the meeting.
Gil Adams, parks department employee, will take over operations of the department on an interim basis.
Following passage of the motion to place McCormack and Smith on administrative leave, the meeting was adjourned. Chairman Simmons said that the Benton Girls Softball Association will be asked to take over operations of the concession stand which has been closed since the police investigation began. The parks department computers have been confiscated.