In the wake of a state police investigation into what appears to be a fictitious invoice signed by Monticello Mayor Zack Tucker, the Monticello City Council Tuesday night unanimously adopted an ordinance preventing Tucker from spending any city funds.
“… the mayor shall have no authority to sign checks, drafts, transfers, or to in any way expend funds or assets of the City of Monticello,” the ordinance reads, in part.
Earlier this month, the staff of the Economic Development Fund of Monticello (EDFM), received information that led to a review of an account set up for the local forestry festival. During that review, the EDFM discovered a deposit with no documentation to show the source of the funds. After further review, it was discovered that the source of those funds was the Monticello Advertising and Promotion Commission and the funds were paid using an invoice that appeared to be from the Economic Development Fund of Monticello, according to information in a statement issued early Tuesday evening by the EDFM.
On April 3, 2015, a check for $22,500 from the City of Monticello Advertising & Promotion Commission Fund was made payable to the Economic Development Fund of Monticello. The check bears what appears to be Mayor Tucker’s signature and endorsed on the reverse side by Mayor Tucker.
An invoice was submitted to the City of Monticello for $22,500 for half of the cost of engineering fees for a proposed convention center. The invoice appears to have been submitted to the city by the EDFM. However, the EDFM did not approve, issue or authorize the invoice, according to the EDFM statement.
Though the name of the forestry festival account is EDFM dba Arkansas Forest Festival, no EDFM staff or board members are authorized signatories on forestry festival account, according to the EDFM.
EDFM executive director Nita McDaniel on August 15, 2016 requested an investigation by the Arkansas Office of Legislative Audit and 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen. All documents pertaining to the EDFM dba Arkansas Forest Festival account were submitted to both Deen and state Legislative Office to aid in their investigation.
Deen requested a state police investigation into the invoice and any transactions related to the invoice.
At standing room only Monticello City Council meeting Tuesday night, Tucker read the following statement:
“In recent days, expenditures from the Monticello Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Monticello City budget have been the subject of several news articles. All funds mentioned in the recent news articles were spent on purposes for which they were intended and/or appropriated. No funds have been stolen, embezzled, or spent for the personal benefit of any individual. These matters are currently being investigated by the proper State agencies. While these matters are under investigation, I will continue to fulfill my duties as the Mayor. The business of the City of Monticello will continue and move forward. I would request that the Council and the citizens of Monticello remain patient until such time as the investigation is completed.
In the meantime, on the advice of my legal counsel, I have been instructed to not comment on these matters further while the investigation is pending. I know that the members of the Council, Press and Public have many questions. Even though I will not be able to comment on specific transactions, I feel confident that all questions will be resolved once the investigation is complete.”
Tucker’s attorney, Hani Hashem of Monticello, attended the meeting.
Following Tucker’s statement, the city council swiftly moved through the agenda, then added a new agenda item: an ordinance eliminating Tucker’s power to spend any city funds.
The city’s fiscal procedures over the last two years, have, on occasion, not been followed and a sanction should be in place for any future violation of city fiscal policies, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance prevents the expenditure of more than $2,000 of city funds for any single purpose without the consent of a majority of the Monticello City Council Budget Committee. It also prevents the mayor from signing any check, draft, transfer or in any way expend funds or assets of the City of Monticello.
All checks, drafts, transfers or expenditures must bear three signatures: the city finance director, the city treasurer and a member of the Monticello City Council Budget Committee.
The ordinance also sets a $250 fine for each and every violation of the ordinance.
The council adopted the ordinance with a unanimous vote. Aldermen Joe Meeks, Cedric Leonard, Al Peer, Beverly Hudson, Carolyn Brown, Paige Chase and Claudia Hartness cast the affirmative votes. Alderman Raymond Hubbard was unable to attend the meeting.