Lela Patterson Fired By Flo Water Directors

At a special called meeting for Flo Community Water Supply Corporation (FCWSC), the board took a vote to terminate Lela Patterson from her position as Business Manager effective immediately. All members except Director Phillip Bounds were present Thursday, November 1st, at the meeting held at the Cowboy Church just outside Centerville on Highway 7. Board President Mike Meade presided.

Meade started the meeting by saying he wanted to ?walk everyone through? the process at FCWSC that has transpired since the first days of October. Present at the meeting, besides the directors were the board?s attorney, the board?s auditor, two press reporters and three interested residents.

Meade said that in August, Director Doris Pittman, Secretary/Treasurer of the board, discovered charges made to a credit card that she was unaware had been authorized by the board for use.

Pittman said she asked Patterson why the board never saw any statements from the credit card. ?Lela said that payment of the card was made through the bank. I asked her to show me the statements. Lela said she would show me, but she never did.?

Meade said that he could not ignore the questions Pittman raised. ?To ignore what the board Treasurer was reporting would have been irresponsible,? said Meade. So the board sought the advise of their attorney, Patricia Coy. Coy recommended that an independent auditor be hired to investigate the concerns. Coy recommended Trisha Fritsche, a forensic auditor. Both Coy and Fritsche have offices in Clifton.

Meade also addressed actions that the board had taken recently that might have been interpreted as covert by the public. This includes changing the meeting place which has been at the Methodist Church in Buffalo for many years. ?I wanted to be discreet,? said Meade. ?we were not being secretive. A person?s career and reputation was in question. We brought in an auditor, and I hoped everything would check out okay.?

At that point, P.J. ?Trish? Fritsche, the forensic accountant, said that after her investigation, it was her opinion that ariybd $3,000 a month in expenditures was questionable. ?Some include charges to Hobby Lobby, an out of state restaurant, and Brookshire Bros that are clearly not business related. It is my opinion, the internal control structure at FCWSC had failed.?

Fritsche further explained that for a financial structure to be successful, custody, authority, and record keeping must be kept separated, and in the case of FCWSC, it was not separated. ?As a forensic auditor,? said Fritsche, ?I take on a project like this to protect the assets of the company.?

Fritsche said she chose January 2017 to September 2018 to be her test period. During those months, Fritsche said she found ?credit card transactions that could not be shown to have been for business purposes.? Some of the transactions in question were unsupported, and the normal procedure for use of the credit card had not been done.

Asked if the allegations that were being made about undocumented credit card purchases, meant that the board members believed Patterson was spending money for her personal benefit. The board agreed that was not what they thought. And Fritsche said some transactions are just unknown because there is not documentation for them.

Further, Fritsche said she found irregularities in payroll ? payments made that were not coded accurately and payments to employees without explanation. ?The protection of the company?s assets had not happened. Expenditures took place that were in violation of accounting practices.?

Asked if Patterson had been questioned about any of this, Fritsche said that Patterson had been uncooperative throughout the investigation. ?Since there is not going to be enforcement in this case, there was no need for me to question Patterson.? Fritsche explained that ?enforcement? meant legal charges being made.

Meade also said that Patterson had been uncooperative. ?She would not answer or return phone calls, would not supply passwords or other information that was requested,? said Meade. ?We had to hire a computer technician to get us into the computers.?

At that point, the board was asked, ?Will you bring Lela in and ask her to explain the transactions that are in question?? Meade responded that that was the next thing for the board to decide, what steps to take next concerning Patterson. Meade asked the directors if they would prefer to go into a closed session to discuss it. The directors agreed to remain in the public format.

Meade opened up the consideration of Lela Patterson. No one spoke for a few seconds. Then Wheeler made a motion that Patterson be terminated from her position at FCWSC effective immediately. Director Larry Buchanan seconded that motion, and all members voted in favor. The board made no mention of asking Patterson about any of the things the auditor described but could not substantiate.

The board moved to the next agenda item to decide the need for further consulting services with Fritsche. The board voted to retain the auditor?s services one or two days a week to get policy and procedures in place. ?We need to reign in expenses and get control of the budget,? said Meade.

The last item on the agenda was to consider a new policy concerning the use of the credit card belonging to FCWSC. The new policy was approved.

Director Joe Graves suggested that future meetings be held in Buffalo, noting that Buffalo is closer in proximity to where FCWSC members reside. Meade said he was considering several sites including the Cowboy Church in Centerville. No decision was made as to the location of future meetings.