Tom Henry

Newsroom Editor


The spin is making me dizzy already

Saturday, February 3, 2018

“It is part of politics to make things look better than they really are,” Nigel Rees.

Well its certainly election season again, so I caution everyone to really be alert from now until November. Politicians and their surrogates love to spin, spin, spin.

Last week I quoted Ms. Clarissa Jones’ complaint regarding my news report on the city’s recent audit and when I countered claims of always being negative I thought at the time that she was just a family member or a friend of Mayor Sanders, defending him and his administration. But later I became aware that she is actually an “accounts payable assistant” in the Finance Department at City Hall.

That entirely changes things. Why? Because since she has stepped (been pushed?) forward as a quasi-spokesperson for the city to spin, I can’t take the risk that her words might be taken as the gospel truth.

Despite the long list of positive columns mentioned in last week’s column, she repeats her complaint once more in her letter to the editor. Ironically, she lists four recent columns as proof that I am always negative, but I didn’t even write three of the four she listed.

She claims that I “took what ANY financial services disclaimer/cover letter states and made it sound like the Arkansas Legislative Audit was saying something was being hidden and wrong. It’s a DISCLAIMER. Kind of like the ones you will read if you use a credit card online, they always sound kind of scary.”

I didn’t make it sound scary; the auditors picked the wording that was quoted.

Also, while some of the language IS standard language used in audits to indicate that the audit was not exhaustive and to make sure the public doesn’t assume that a lack of regulatory “gigs” means that everything is perfect, that is precisely what they are trying to get us to fall for.

Also, it would be impossible to refute the fact that some of what I quoted was absolutely NOT standard language. For example, the $1.944 million dollars in long-term debt that auditors said was not included (page 19).

Additionally, she wrote, “The Arkansas Legislative Audit was a feather in our caps that what we are doing here is WORKING. It’s the first clean audit the city has had in 16 years! So why is Mr. Tom Henry putting such a negative spin on it?”

Well…because it’s not a clean audit. It’s just a cleaner audit, but I am glad. Also its just a partial audit of the city, it does not include the Blytheville Waterworks. So therefore, without all of that information, how can one say the city is “clean”? (We’ve never had any reason to question the financial dealings in the Waterworks during this administration).

So what was the last official word from auditors regarding the Waterworks? The most recent audit is the one dated February 15, 2017.

Page 13 of that audit states, “Note J – Contingencies - At December 31, 2016, there was one lawsuit pending against the Blytheville Water Works. A former employee entered into several contracts for the purchase of more than 20 copiers without approval. Management and legal counsel do not expect the potential liability to exceed $100,000.”

Also, page 16 of the audit finds that Blytheville Waterworks “does not have enough employees to provide for appropriate segregation of duties necessary for effective internal controls”. It goes on to say, “Segregation of duties, provides for independent review and approval of all transactions at various stages of the transaction process. Adequate segregation of duties is an essential part of effective internal control structures.”

Auditors recommended “Management should continue to review all transactions, and accounting records, in order to compensate for the limited number of employees until such time as hiring additional employees is considered cost beneficial.”

The city’s response? “Additional employees for the purpose of improving internal controls would not be cost beneficial. Currently, management supervises all employees and reviews all financial reports.”

Would more oversight employees cost more than the cost of the money that went missing and/or the cost of the copier fiasco? Oh and by the way, what about supplemental audit findings that are not listed? Those aren’t made public, so who knows what they actually said.

Now, since we’re looking at the audit, why are we taking in $714,771 in taxes for “infrastructure improvements” but only spending $10,913? I seem to remember a lot of infrastructural issues. Remember the sewer cave-ins (and streets) and remember hearing about all the city facilities that are simply rotting from neglect? Now why again did the state order the police department evacuate their current facilities? Why not reinvest into our infrastructure like we are supposed to? Why did we change the definition of infrastructure to throw off the limitations to lessor things like equipment?

Why did we transfer $368,880 (out of infrastructure) into the Water Department and another $138,786 to the Sewer Department, while then later transferring money from the Water Department into the general fund? Is that shell game a form of intradepartmental laundering?

You can’t just say the city’s audit is clean when you only have an audit from a portion of the city’s total finances and it points out that $1.944 million was not included by the city. You also can’t just say that the city’s audit is clean when you have not received a “clean” audit of the other portion (Water and Sewer) of the city.

That would be like a lady having a mammogram on Monday that shows problems. She then went to her general practitioner on Friday, but didn’t tell them about the mammogram, and because the doctor didn’t “see” anything else wrong with her (for the first time in 16 years), the woman told everyone that she was given a clean bill of health. It was not a clean bill of health, it was just cleaner (unless she has cancer) bill of health based upon incomplete data.

Rather than say that the “the city’s audit was clean”, they should have simply told us it was the cleanest in 16 years and left it at that.

Had enough? Let’s clean up the mess.