Monday, December 21, 2015
Goodman Fire District state audit shows conflicts of interest, questionable financial activity
State Auditor Nicole Galloway today released an audit of the Goodman Fire Protection District. The audit, which was requested through a petition of the residents of the district, shows a number of actions taken by board members that are potential conflicts of interest, and in some cases, may have violated the law. The audit also identifies an abuse of the district's debit cards and inappropriate storage of district equipment on the board president's personal property.
"This audit has uncovered serious issues regarding the management of the Goodman Fire Protection District, and I commend the people of this community for bringing their concerns to our attention," Auditor Galloway said. "Our firefighters and first responders risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and they deserve to know their governing organizations are operated with integrity and transparency."
The audit found the district does not maintain adequate records of land, buildings, vehicles, equipment and other property owned by the district. Some district equipment is stored on the 200-acre personal property of District Board President Jim Morgan, where Morgan also operates his backhoe and excavating company. Some of this equipment is kept outside, unprotected from the elements, and includes generators, water and fuel tanks, refrigerators and several trucks, among other items.
It appears much of this equipment is not currently in use, and has not been in use for a significant period of time. It is questionable why the district is storing equipment on Morgan's property when the district owns land and buildings at three other locations. Many of these items were obtained from the Missouri Department of Conservation through the federal Department of Defense Fire Fighter Property program. The program issues and repurposes excess federal and military equipment to state agencies, which can then transfer the equipment to local fire departments for firefighting or other emergency services.
The audit shows the district did not solicit bids for nearly $8,000 in services provided by Morgan and his company in 2013 and 2014. Morgan did not abstain from voting when the board approved the use of his company, or abstain from voting to approve payments for his work. A lack of competitive bidding violated state law, and questionable payment methods reveal the district may have attempted to circumvent legal limits on financial transactions between the district and elected officials. The district also purchased supplies from the company of another board member, Paul Sprenkle. Like Morgan, Sprenkle failed to abstain from voting on transactions involving his company.
The audit also uncovered abuse of board-issued debit cards, with concerning charges totaling more than $7,000. Transactions included cash withdrawals, purchases by unauthorized card users, questionable Skype calling service purchases, and inaccurate billing information. For example, President Morgan's district-issued debit card was used numerous times to pay vendor invoices that did not show the district as the customer, and instead listed the City of Goodman, City of Neosho or Morgan's Excavating. In other cases, vendors directly used the district credit card to make purchases. The audit also found unusual activity on an eBay account that was established for board purchases.
The Goodman Fire Protection District received a performance rating of "poor." The complete audit report is available here.