Writing checks for ‘petty cash’ with no explanation for the expenditure is a common practice, documents obtained from the City of Oak Park show. The City of Oak Park also has a public fund account that is not being audited by the accountant during audit season and documentation related to the financial practices of that account is not even maintained at city hall.
The Shiners Committee (not a typographic error — it is ‘shiners’ not ‘shriners’) in Oak Park has long been a point of contention by residents in the community. Not because of the cause –without a doubt the organization does many positive things in the community — but because of the city’s involvement in the practices. The committee hosts a Moonshine Festival each year and has various activities and events in the community each month. But residents have questioned who oversees the funds, audits the accounts, and ensures everything is in compliance with the law.
Whether or not the City of Oak Park and the Shiners Committee are truly ‘separate’ entities is clouded by the fact that the Shiners bank account is a city account, hosted by the City of Oak Park at Spivey Bank in Swainsboro along with the other city bank accounts. The bank account statements read “City of Oak Park” on them, though the checks have a subheader reading “Shiners Committee,” and there is a specific designation on the bank statements that indicate the funds in the accounts is classified as “public funds.” Legally, the money in the account is considered public, and therefore tax dollars, because it is maintained by a local government entity.
Mayor Larry Wilson, Mayor Pro-Tem Royce Dismuke, and Deputy City Clerk Patricia Bowen are the primary signers on the accounts and have been since at least the beginning of 2015, which is as far back as bank statements obtained by AllOnGeorgia through an Open Records Request reveal.
Searches with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did not indicate a 501(c)3 nonprofit status for the Shiners Organization and the information provided on the bank statements was available under the Open Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act. For all intents and purposes, the Shiners Committee is merely a committee under the operations of the city government.
But, only bank statements are maintained at Oak Park City Hall. Any supporting documentation, invoicing, or other relevant financial information is maintained ‘off-premises’ and said to be at the school house, not in the position of the city clerk at City Hall, and it gets confusing because it isn’t always clear where the Shiners money comes from. The Shiners Committee bank account is not included in the annual audit, either.
Without the audit, there is no accountability for the Amazon purchases, Walmart purchases, or those at any other retailer because receipts are not maintained by the city even though it is legally classified as a ‘public fund.’ The bank account has debit card and check expenditures almost every month.
The Shiners committee operates primarily on donations which begs the question of why the City is involved or hosts the account in the first place. It also raises questions as to why checks and debits are sometimes made from the General Fund account on behalf of the Shiners when there is both a checkbook and a debit card for that account, according to the bank statements.
There are dozens of seemingly legitimate expenses documented on the bank statements including a $200 check to the Oak Park PD for Boston butts, $285 to K&M Sanitation, $728 to Double J Signs & Tees, and a $1,000 check for “Cash” itemized as “change for the Moonshine Festival.” Many of the checks have a ‘reason’ in the ‘Memo’ line. But others show repeated checks for cash with no explanation:
|Check No.||Date||Amount||Signed By|
|3169||3/3/2017||$300||Patricia Bowen||Mayor Wilson|
|3142||10/17/2015||$256.76||Royce Dismuke||Mayor Wilson|
|3126||7/6/2015||$272.07||Royce Dismuke||Mayor Wilson|
|3114||3/16/15||$316.24||Royce Dismuke||Mayor Wilson|
In addition to the petty cash checks, elected officials have been compensated for extra work done in town and at the school house. The money is paid from the City of Oak Park’s Shiners account.
|Check No.||Date||For||Amount||Signed By|
|3165||2/6/2017||Bathroom Construction||$599||Larry Wilson||Patricia Bowen|
|3149||4/1/16||Labor on Stage||$599||Larry Wilson||Patricia Bowen|
Other checks of concern include the January 2015 for $75 with no explanation to the wife of a council member and a May 2015 check for $100 that was cashed but not signed by anyone. Additionally, on April 14, 2016, city employee Patricia Bowen was issued a “refund for an A/C unit purchased at Walmart” in the amount of $206 on check number 3146.
It is possible that there is no wrongdoing on the Shiners Committee account, but the Committee’s financial soundness cannot be determined by the way the business is currently conducted and the mixed operations compromise the integrity of a committee operating as a charity. If the Shiners Committee wants to collect money and spend it as it sees fit, it should separate from the City of Oak Park and no longer classify as a public fund account.