1:48pm

Fri March 2, 2012
State Capitol

$410K Missing at KY Agriculture Department

More than $410,000 in state property issued to the Department of Agriculture remains unaccounted for or missing about two months after auditors launched a sweeping review of the agency. Inventory records provided to The State Journal show more than $72,000 in state property has been either found, returned to the department or located in the state surplus system. Most of the 45 items are computers, printers and other electronic equipment.

But more than $410,000 in property, including computers, printers, camcorders and a 15-phone, two-console phone system, hasn’t turned up since the audit began Jan. 11, records show.

State Auditor Adam Edelen’s office is conducting a wide-ranging audit of the agency under former commissioner Richie Farmer at the request of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Stephenie Steitzer, spokeswoman for Edelen, declined to comment on the still-missing property but said the audit should be completed in April.

Guthrie True, Farmer’s attorney, said he has contacted Edelen’s office but has not met with auditors. 

“They have not indicated to me, at least up to this point, that that’s on their radar screen, so I can’t really speak to what they are doing or what they’re not doing,” True said.

Farmer has returned two Dell Latitude laptops worth about $1,000 each; a 24-inch, flat-panel Dell monitor valued at about $700; an HP OfficeJet printer worth less than $500; and seven rifles since the audit was announced, records show.

The guns were purchased with privately-raised funds and meant as gifts for agriculture officials at the 2008 Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference in Lexington, according to True.

However, department inventory records show Farmer has not returned two Dell Latitude laptops valued at more than $2,000 total and two GPS devices worth less than $500 each.

True acknowledged there is some dispute as to whether Farmer has turned over all state property issued him during his time as commissioner, but he says Farmer has returned everything in his possession.

“Richie has searched to the extent he’s got the ability to search,” True said. “As you know, he and his wife are separated, so he’s only got control over the property that’s within his custody. We’ve returned everything.

“… My understanding was that they (the Department of Agriculture) were going to take another look to be sure that they didn’t have those somewhere, maybe they were misplaced or mis-marked or mis-inventoried.”

He said Farmer “will be glad to reimburse” the agency if the laptops and GPS devices aren’t found.

While more than 150 items remain missing, Grayson Smith, the Department of Agriculture’s executive director of strategic planning and administration, has been tracking down more than 100 items marked as surplus but without a corresponding disposition number, which identifies property in the system, according to Holly VonLuehrte, the department’s general counsel.

Smith has found about 30 pieces of equipment, including some possible matches, in the state’s surplus system, records show.

VonLuehrte called the process of locating surplus items without an identification number “arduous.”

“We’re not going to take for granted that something’s been surplused if there’s no disposition number,” she said. 

“… Obviously it’s important to him (Comer) now to confirm that these items were in fact surplused, and it’s necessary to have a disposition number in order to confirm that.”

She said Comer directed Smith to compile a complete and accurate inventory list as soon as possible.

Cindy Lanham, spokeswoman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, said because the Department of Agriculture in some cases can’t pinpoint a year that property was supposedly surplused, some of the items may date back more than a decade.

She called the situation surrounding the large number of unidentified surplus properties at the agency “unusual.” 

“We haven’t seen it to this magnitude because, generally, an agency understands that it’s also their responsibility to maintain records as well as our responsibility,” Lanham said. 

“But they work in tandem. If you need us to track down some information, you need to provide us with a number.”

The cabinet was able to locate two items that were surplused in 2010, she said, but tracking down the entire list would require more manpower.

“The fact of the matter is if we were required, legally, to prove that they did not surplus those items, we would have to request special assistance, either funding for temporary staff or assistance from other offices,” Lanham said. “That’s why we assign disposition numbers, and that’s why it’s so important.”

Though about 150 items remain lost, the department hasn’t purchased new equipment to compensate for missing property, VonLuehrte said.

“Obviously one of his (Comer’s) goals is to ensure that we have the equipment that we need, but that we’re efficient and there is no excess,” she said.