Two Cleveland County commissioners approved themselves as officers on an account from which millions in federal relief money will be spent in the coming year, sidelining a third commissioner who was left off the account.
At least $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated as commissioners prioritize how to spend it, The Transcript has reported.
District 1 Rod Cleveland’s name did not appear on Monday’s agenda item designating fellow commissioners chair Darry Stacy and vice chair Harold Haralson as requitions officers on the fund. The fund will have separate requesting officers and receiving officers to manage it.
Requesting officers can make purchase requests off the fund themselves, while Cleveland can do so through a staff member, The Transcript learned after the meeting. Regardless of how purchase orders are created, each one must be approved by the commission during a board meeting.
Stacy told Cleveland he was following a recommendation to have only two commissioners on the account, along with an alternate third person, Denise Ellison, who is executive assistant to all three commissioners.
“I asked our executive assistant that [question] specifically; she said it is two requesting officers and one alternate is typical,” Stacy said.
Cleveland said in the past, it was common to have all three county commissioners as officers on similar fund accounts and asked why it would be different now.
“Just for the reason I stated,” Stacy said. He then offered to have George Mauldin, the county’s emergency management director, as the alternate third party. Cleveland offered no comment.
The motion carried, with Cleveland voting no.
On the opposite end of the fund’s transactions, District 2 Office Manager Dana Jones and Administrative Assistant to commissioners Melissa Nies were appointed as receiving officers.
Cleveland asked why Jones would be appointed to the position when she works outside the commissioners’ office at the courthouse.
“Melissa is within our executive office here and Dana being outside this office, she’s out of the courthouse,” Cleveland said.
Stacy said Jones had the necessary experience to be “backup on that.”
“Well, if you’re talking about experience, I think Christi Morren has more experience in the commissioner’s office,” Cleveland noted. Morren is Cleveland’s office assistant.
Haralson immediately moved to approve the motion to appoint Jones and Nies; it passed unanimously.
Following the meeting, Stacy told The Transcript that having a third party who does not serve on the board of county commissioners as a requesting officer was a “checks and balances” decision.
He further noted that it was not uncommon to appoint the chair and vice chair of the board to such funds. Despite an annual vote to select chair and vice chair designations, Cleveland has not held either distinction since 2018.
Cleveland said the decision doesn’t mean he won’t be able to view the account or make requests of the funds.
“All in all, it’s petty,” Cleveland said. “I can still see the accounts, it’s just that I do not have authorization to go in and create on the computer a PO (purchase order). I don’t create POs — I have staff that does that.”
Cleveland said he questioned appointing Jones, Stacy’s assistant at his District 2 barn, because she did not have as much experience as Morren.
Morren was awarded recognition during the meeting for completing an 80-plus-hour training program, Road Scholar, through the Local Technical Assistance Program. Cleveland completed the course in 2015.
Commissioners approved a $180 million leased revenue bond for Moore Public Schools. The move makes it easier for the district to access the funds in a timelier manner, Stacy said.
“We do the bonds for them to get the funds immediately to start their projects, otherwise it would be an annual payout,” he said. “This way it is structured to get them the money up front.”
David Floyd of Floyd Law Firm, which practices municipal bond and public finance law, said the firm used the county as a public trust for the school’s bond.
“The county trust will issue the bonds because they’ve got a little bit more ability in how they structure things financially,” he said. “So, a county public trust will issue bonds and the funds will be used by the school to construct the improvements. It’s all school money, not county money. We’re just using their capability as a public trust.”