Organizations and agencies that receive large amounts of money from county coffers will be more accountable to the public under new requirements that are being implemented by the Jones County Board of Supervisors.

Those entities will be required to submit financial statements every six months after first answering a few questions that were submitted by Chief Administrative Officer and Board Attorney Danielle Ashley and Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller. 

Each agency has to describe what internal controls are in place to prevent fraud, the employees who handle funds (and proof of their being bonded), a copy of their most recent audit and a list of employees with access to agency credit cards and what oversight practices are in place to prevent fraud. Those responses are due by Oct. 4.

The inquiry is in response to the recent arrest of former Jones County Fire Council President Lee Garick, 42, who is charged with embezzling funds from the fire service and from the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department, where he once served as chief. The investigation is ongoing, but there have been reports that he fraudulently spent as much as $400,000 or more.

Read related: 'Lee had this planned': Ex-fire council went on ‘spending spree’ after getting rid of oversight, former fire coordinator says Alleged spending included gastric bypass for wife

Garick

Lee Garick

Some of the other agencies that will have to report to the board and the amounts they receive from the county include the Jones County Economic Development Authority ($650,000), the Laurel-Jones County Library ($531,220), the Pat Harrison Waterway ($478,292), the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport ($245,840), Pine Belt Mental Health ($195,517) and the Magnolia Center/South Mississippi Fair Association ($180,000).

At its most-recent meeting, the Jones County Fire Council submitted a pair of proposals for how the service can proceed with added accountability. One of those included the appointing a treasurer for the council, who will be bonded and accountable to the executive committee of the council. All requests for payment will have to be accompanied by an invoice and monthly statements will be provided to supervisors. No member of the council would have debit or credit cards.

The other proposal calls for the board to distribute separate checks to each of the 19 fire departments in the Jones County Fire Service and have a bonded treasurer with each department. The system of checks-and-balances would include monthly statements to the council’s executive committee and the Board of Supervisors. If a department fails to do that, it won’t receive a check. 

Attorney Risher Caves was in the process of revising the 2014 contract the fire service is under with the board “to completely revise the way our money is handled,” Jones County Fire Council President Gordon Pitts wrote in a letter to Fire Coordinator Kyle Brooks that was presented to the board. The goal is to “be sure all bases are covered to insure our financial responsibilities are covered along with our other responsibilities. Each and everyone on this council is taking this matter with utmost importance working diligently to complete this contract and to continue to serve the citizens for Jones County.”

The Jones County Fire Council receives funds from the county, local water departments and state rebate money.

Supervisors took the proposals under advisement and planned to discuss it more at the next board meeting, set for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 4 at the Jones County courthouse in Laurel.

Pitts discovered the missing funds along with fellow council member Mike Hodge, then took their findings to Brooks, who contacted the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, council spokeswoman Dana Bumgardner said. 

Now the JCSD, state Auditor’s Office and Department of Homeland Security are involved in the investigation. Garick remains in the Jones County Adult Detention Center on $60,000 bond.

Read related: Ex-Calhoun Fire Chief arrested for embezzling from Jones County Fire Council

Mark Thornton is the editor-in-chief of the Laurel Leader-Call. Contact him at editor@leader-call.com

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