KINLOCH — The Kinloch Fire Protection District hasn’t kept accurate accounting records or paid bills on time and did not approve a budget for the 2019 fiscal year until July, a review by State Auditor Nicole Galloway said, although the current fire chief said financial oversight has improved.
The review and Galloway’s statement on Wednesday follow an audit completed last year that found $100,000 in public funds were either missing or had been misspent by the district.
Former Mayor and Fire Chief Darren Small and his wife, Jayna Small, the former president of the fire district board of directors, pleaded guilty in 2017 to federal theft charges related to the missing funds, admitting to using tax dollars to buy clothing, food, cigarettes and liquor. They were ordered to repay the district $75,000, and Darren Small was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Of 25 recommendations Galloway made to the fire district, five are in place and seven are in progress, her office said.
Minutes for the board’s meetings weren’t documented until February of this year, when Galloway’s office contacted the district about the review. District staff members don’t issue receipts for all money the district receives and board members do not document their review of invoices before they are paid.
The review also found that accounting records kept by the district were inaccurate, and sometimes bills have gone unpaid until late fees incurred.
The 2019 budget approved by the district board was incomplete and inaccurate, Galloway’s office stated. As of May 31, the district has spent almost $28,000 more than is budgeted for the entire year.
The district has improved in some ways, according to the state auditor — elections were held to fill board vacancies and the board implemented a policy disallowing debit card usage and stopped payment of employee bonuses.
Kinloch Fire Chief Kevin Stewart said Wednesday that there is now “no missing money at all.”
“Since I’ve become chief, we’ve implemented a good number of the recommendations suggested, and we’re currently working to implement all of them so that we never have this type of impropriety again.”
Stewart became chief in March after temporary fire chief Willie Pryor gave up the reins following Small’s removal.
Stewart said some expenses came up after the district submitted its budget to the state, including unexpected insurance costs and the replacement of a district vehicle.
“We have very clear, very direct and involved oversight from our board and they are very involved in making sure all funds are accounted for,” he said.
The audit that was released last year found $72,484 in improper purchases and cash withdrawals from the district’s bank account by Small, the former chief. Another $25,705 could not be accurately accounted for, Galloway said. The district did not have records for 75% of its transactions between January 2014 and March 2017, Galloway’s office said.
“The theft of nearly $100,000 in taxpayer money has a real impact on a community as small as Kinloch,” Galloway said in a statement. “Citizens deserve to know their elected officials will act quickly to make fundamental change to prevent future wrongdoing. I urge the board to continue working to restore public confidence, increase transparency and bolster accountability.”