The Arkansas IRS
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - State and federal races get most of the attention in Arkansas, but local elections have a greater chance of impacting your life.
There is an easy way for you to evaluate the performance of your county leaders.
It is a website you should visit before election day.
Every single year, your county judge, sheriff, treasurer, assessor, tax collector, treasurer, clerks, even your county librarian, are subject to a comprehensive audit, which makes the Bureau of Legislative Audit one of the most powerful and in some circles most-feared state agencies.
In recent years, auditors have produced findings that led to the downfall of the Izard County judge, Lonoke County's assessor, Newton County's assessor, a pair of Yell County EMT employees, a parks department assistant in Harrison and Wilmot's water clerk.
Altogether, over a million dollars of taxpayer money was lost to these seven people alone.
"In Prairie County we're so broke...I could take home a pencil or a notepad put that is about it,” says Prairie County Judge Mike Skarda. “One crook can mess up everything for everybody, and that is kind of what happened."
Judge Skarda has seen annual audits get much tougher during his ten years of service.
In 2016, Prairie County was cited for donating $1,000.00 to Children’s Hospital and allowing jail employees to donate hours to a fellow employee who missed a lot of work due to illness.
And Skarda was hardly alone. Auditors found trouble spots in the performance of 23 county judges in 2016.
Channel Seven reviewed the 2016 audits for county officials in all 75 Arkansas counties. 2016 is the most recent year where all audits are completed and posted online at www.arklegaudit.gov.
31 counties passed the annual audit with flying colors. But in the other 44, at least one discrepancy was found.
In 13 counties, there were problems found in at least three county offices.
In about half of those counties, the audits resulted in someone being investigated, fired, charged and convicted.
Down in Union County, two road department employees stole $15,000 in cash. Over half the money was quickly recovered.
Auditors questioned how that recovered money was handled by County Judge Mike Loftin. Loftin's opponent is making audit findings a campaign issue even though no evidence of wrongdoing was found.
"It still doesn't change the fact that we were out of compliance,” says Clifton Preston, the Republican candidate seeking to unseat County Judge Loftin. “And it is very important that we get in compliance every year and work with the auditors."
"You don't condemn somebody for something until you are sitting in that chair and you know what it is like,” counters County Judge Skarda. “Because...Mike Loftin probably...I don't know what he got written up for but I feel sure that it was nothing that he did intentionally."
"Do you think it is fair game though that audit findings be used in a political campaign?"
"I think any information for the public is important whenever you are picking your representative,” answers Preston. “So public information is out there for people to make informed decisions about who they want to lead them. So I think any public information should be used in order to pick the right person for the job."
So, what sheriffs and county judges failed to solicit bids for a big jobs?
What county judge was storing county property at his property?
What county bought an employee's spouse's vehicle?
You can find out if any of these things happened in your county by visiting www.arklegaudit.gov.
Check it out before you cast your votes on November 6th.
And if you are wondering why we did not include any comments from anyone who works with the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Audit, at first Director Roger Norman was on board with our proposal to do a report on legislative audit and how things work. But after considering the timing, right before an election, he thought otherwise since the agency strives to be non-political.
Air date: November 1st, 2018