State launches investigation into FEMA work
County officials continued to point fingers this week as an investigation was launched by Kentucky Emergency Management into the perceived mismanagement of Federal Emergency Management Agency funding by the Floyd County Fiscal Court.
According to Buddy Rogers, public information officer for KYEM, his office has an investigation into the county’s management of FEMA disasters.
“We are aware of the findings and have begun our own investigation and have established communications with the local officials in that regard,” said Rogers.
When asked what kind of realistic impact the auditors report could have on future FEMA declarations, Rogers said, “To address our own findings would be premature at this point.”
Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall said his office has not had any conversations with KYEM, but he understands more information has been requested.
A report by state Auditor Adam Edelen’s office, released last Tuesday, found the fiscal court had “failed to maintain supporting documentation for costs incurred on 55 small projects and one large project,” had spent $97,727 more on one project than was allotted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and had failed to keep its FEMA money separate from other county accounts.
As a result of the improperly maintained files related to the 2009 disaster, the auditor’s report says the total cost of all the projects — over $1.1 million — has been questioned by FEMA, putting the county at risk of losing FEMA declarations in the event of future disasters.
When asked about the nearly $100,000 difference between what the county was funded by FEMA and what they spent on one project from the 2009 disaster, Marshall said, “Those were areas where FEMA people came out and measured and gave the scope of what we would do there. It turned out that it took much more than what they said.”
Marshall says that he rode with FEMA inspectors when they came out following the 2009 disaster. “With this one project in question, after it was put forth by FEMA, we found that we couldn’t access that property and do that because of some overhead power lines.”
Marshall says the county typically had to finish a FEMA project and then they received payment, but on this project they were paid before the project was finished. “We’re just trying to resolve that problem.” Marshall says the road in question still needs some work, but that it is passable now.
“It’s always a possibility,” said Marshall when asked if he believed that the county could lose future FEMA declarations. “It’s just a matter of their guidelines, and whether or not we adhered to what they proposed rather than what we deem necessary for the safety of our children on the school buses.”
“We went beyond the scope,” said Marshall.
In a Times report last Friday, Lois Marshall, wife of Judge-Executive Marshall and an administrative assistant in his office, pointed to Magistrate Hattie Owens and road foreman Mike Jarrell as being the responsible parties for the perceived mismanagement of 2009 FEMA disaster that was questioned in the state auditor’s report.
Hattie Owens was attending a magistrates conference last week and was unreachable by Times staff. On Monday, she said that, beginning April 20, 2010, she ceased being the FEMA agent for the 2009 project because she was appointed to the position of magistrate. “I no longer had access to the paperwork,” said Owens.
Owens says that before she left the position, the fiscal court paid to have Lois trained as a FEMA agent. According to Owens, Lois Marshall either “didn’t comprehend or didn’t understand” the work, and the court selected Kathea Newsome to fill the position instead.
Owens contends that the auditors were misinformed or not given the materials that they needed, and that auditors never made any requests of her or Mike Jarrell. “There is a file cabinet for every disaster, and a file for every project,” said Owens.
In the auditor’s report, auditors also noted that they made a site visit to three other project sites and could not determine with any certainty that the county used the correct amount of gabion baskets on any of the sites.
“A count was made and it did not equal the total of gabion baskets required by the PW to complete the scope of work,” said auditors in the report.
Owens said the auditors probably wouldn’t know a gabion basket if they saw one.
Gabion baskets are made of thick galvanized wire, which are filled with stone and stacked on one another, most often used as retaining walls, or to stabilize shorelines and slopes against erosion.
Owens says Newsome, the current FEMA agent, has closed all of the current FEMA disasters accept for the 2009 disaster, and that future FEMA declarations are not in jeopardy. “We’ve been audited by FEMA before and never had any problems.”
“There is no way that FEMA will withhold funding,” said Owens. “If they had wanted to cut our funds, it would have been done years ago.”
As FEMA agent, much of the blame is falling on Newsome, whose own hiring came under question months ago when the county treasurer informed the fiscal court it could not keep Newsome on as a contract employee, since she was already a full-time employee in the clerk’s office.
At a later meeting, the court reversed its decision and said that they could employ Newsome as a contractor, despite her full time employment with the clerks office.
The full audit of the Floyd County Fiscal Court by the state auditor’s office can be found online at http://auditor.ky.gov.
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