BENTON (KTHV) - There's now a change of power over Benton city parks.
Controlled since 2004 by the Parks Commission, the city council overwhelmingly voted Tuesday night to get rid of it after an audit calls out a number of issues (PDF) over park business recently came out.
Power over the Parks Commission now goes to Mayor David Mattingly's office with further review by city council. Alderman voted eight to one to move this direction; that audit clearly not sitting well with the majority of the council.
In just under an hour Tuesday night, the Benton City Council debated and decided the fate of city's Parks Commission.
"This is not where I thought this was going to be," Benton Mayor David Mattingly said.
It was a tough spot for Mayor David Mattingly and others on the council. But the majority still voted to ditch the commission after a recent audit of park business.
"I was surprised and to be honest I was more disgusted in what I read," Doug Stracener said.
Alderman Doug Stracener was especially upset with the audit's report on high fuel usage in the Parks and Recreation Department. It mentions employees "gasing up" off the clock and entering either wrong or no odometer readings at time of purchase.
"That doesn't compute when you have three parks and there about five miles apart," Stracener said.
"These very, very good citizens of Benton were just hung out to dry," Alderman David Sparks said.
Alderman David Sparks was the only one voting against the commission's removal. He feels that it's been a scapegoat for bad employee decisions. The audit also mentioned a worker leaving out needed information like check numbers on cash receipts for park business.
"They meet once a month and they probably need to have a little more input on what the employees were doing and what was happening," Sparks said.
It's one last attempt to support the commission, leaving behind eight years of work controlling city parks.
Two members of the commission did speak at the meeting. One defended the park's progress in the city over the past decade and the other said that there should at least be a parks committee going forward. That is actually part of the mayor's plan with a committee comprised of city alderman. And the mayor also says he will garner input from alderman and the public as he finds a new parks director to fill a vacant position.
This latest audit came about after an earlier, separate review of city departments who handle cash. That report turned up missing concession money at Tyndall Park and a park secretary later fired after admitting to police that she took some of that money but it's clear how much. You can click here to read a letter from police about this case; we obtained it from City Attorney Brent Houston. (PDF)