Lawmaker says Arkansas PBS audit could go to a 'prosecuting attorney'

Arkansas' Legislative Joint Auditing Committee continued its scrutiny of Arkansas PBS' procurement process on Thursday, and one lawmaker said audit results could go to a "prosecuting attorney."

An audit of the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022, shows that on multiple occasions, PBS entered agreements to purchase goods and services from two companies owned by the same vendor.

Those contracts were under $20,000, which does not require a competitive bid process, the audit said.

"It's not just the fact they bid under ($20,000) and they told people to stay under ($20,000)," said Rep. Jeffrey Wardlaw, R-Hermitage. "They told people to go form a whole other company to stay under ($20,000). It's blatantly circumventing the law here. And to set and testify that's not true, I think at some point when we get done with a future audit we probably need to send this to a prosecuting attorney."

Legislative Joint Auditing's executive committee on Wednesday approved a special audit to examine PBS' procurement processes.

PBS Executive Director Courtney Pledger said in the meeting with the joint auditing committee on Thursday there was no intention to circumvent state law.

"Our goal is always compliance," Pledger said. "We followed the advice and guidance of our former fiscal officer. Now that we are aware that it is perceived to be not in good practice, not solid practice, we will not conduct business in that way in the future."

The audit also raised questions about "Time and Effort" sheets, which track the hours some employees work on a project called "Rise and Shine." A review of 30 sheets from 13 employees showed reimbursement from the Arkansas Department of Education was $2.267 more than what was on the sheets.

PBS said the discrepancy was due to a requirement by the Arkansas Educational Television Commission to submit payroll costs in advance to DOE.

"Occasionally, there were variances between estimated payroll and actual payroll costs," PBS said in its audit response.

Stephanie Lilly-Palmer, former human resources director with PBS who was fired from the agency, said at least nine employees came to her saying they were asked to falsify the sheets. She said about 30% of the employees came to her with a complaint about the sheets.

"On July 20, a particular employee came to me and presented her concerns. She was in tears because she did not want to sign the time and effort sheets because she did not work the time she was being told to allocate," Lilly-Palmer told the committee.

Andrew Bicknell, former chief technical officer, said there was a culture at the organization of bypassing purchasing regulations and procurement orders.

"The culture has been spawned and encouraged by the director of the organization and it's wider reaching than just the investigations that are presently underway," he said.


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