State audit critical of county's legal spending in 2020

Mar. 17—ANDERSON — An audit of Madison County for 2020 was critical of the then-commissioners for paying an attorney without proper appropriations.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts released the audit findings Friday.

"There were insufficient internal controls in place to ensure all expenditures were properly appropriated and followed procurement requirements," the audit states.

For 2020, the Madison County Council approved $150,000 for legal fees, but the cost has grown to approximately $500,000.

During the year there was an ongoing dispute between commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps and the council on expenditures to pay the Indianapolis law firm of Bose McKinney & Evans.

At one point during 2020, the commissioners didn't conduct business because there were no funds to pay for an attorney to be present.

"It was identified that certain legal services were initiated by the commissioners and submitted for payment without proper appropriations established to do so."

After Phipps was replaced by Darlene Likens, the commissioners in 2021 hired the Elwood-based law firm of Graham, Hopper, Farrer & Wilson to replace Bose McKinney & Evans.

Under the terms of the contract, attorney Jeff Graham will be paid $11,150 per month for all routine matters of the commissioners, election board, drainage board, health department and other county agencies.

The base fee for the year is $133,800. The Madison County Council has appropriated $150,000 to cover legal expenses this year in 2021.

For non-routine matters, Graham will be paid at a rate of $250 per hour. The Indianapolis law firm was charging $450 per hour.

The audit was also critical of a purchase of equipment by the Madison County Highway Department without first soliciting bids, as required by state law.

The highway department's purchase of three dump trucks cost approximately $300,000. The commissioners received bids after the purchase was already made.

"In both instances, the auditor's office identified the issues prior to the disbursement of funds," the report stated.

The purchase and payment for the equipment was a point of contention between the commissioners and the Madison County Council for several months in 2020.

The county received bids on the trucks in 2019, according to Auditor Rick Gardner.

Madison County purchased three trucks for the highway department and lawn equipment from Bendle's Lawn Equipment through a lease/purchase agreement.

The financing for the purchase was approved in April and was to be finalized in June.

The payment was delayed because an opinion of counsel letter to the bank had not been signed by the county attorney, who indicated the document could not be signed because of missing documentation.

That documentation included bid specifications, the date of purchase, who authorized the purchase and when the trucks were delivered.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.