Parks commission plans workshop to address finances

Thursday, September 10, 2020

By Samantha Jones

Nearly a year after voting to hire Windle & Associates for accounting services, the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is still considering how to best handle finances.

The commission heard from director Justin Huss at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1, about the commission’s ongoing relationship with accountant Rusty Windle. Huss said the commission was just now getting financials for the first two quarters, saying no new reports have been requested from Windle or produced by the commission.

“This responsibility is currently the commission’s,” Huss said.

Huss said he wanted to clarify some things about the commission’s relationship with Windle.

“Throughout much of this challenging period, blame has been laid at the feet of our CPA firm. This is not fair criticism,” Huss said. “Commissioners were in contact with Windle & Associates for much of the fall and first of the year, and aside from the additional cost of an audit, no details were established or expectations defined.”

Huss said Windle was contacted by “multiple commissioners,” causing Windle to feel “confused with who he was authorized to negotiate with and what exactly was needed.”

“All of the quarterly financial data and work to date for 2020 has been done with no contract or payment agreement,” Huss said. “You should be very grateful. I am very grateful to Windle & Associates for working with us under these circumstances and providing us with the quarterly statements as they stand.”

The commission voted Dec. 3, 2019, to hire Windle & Associates to provide accounting services and a financial audit for the year of 2019. On Feb. 4, the commission voted to receive from Windle & Associates third-quarter and fourth-quarter financial statements for 2019 including a balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flow, as well as an end-of-the-year 2019 income statement, balance sheet and cash flow to include beginning balances going into 2020.

Huss said the commission removed the financial recording and duties from his job last fall.

“This was based on current investigations but also included accusations from within the commission,” Huss said.

Commissioner Dave Hartmann disagreed with that assessment.

“There was never a motion saying … we were removing financial responsibilities from Justin,” Hartmann said. “When in your recollection did that happen?”

Huss recalled the commission’s Jan. 21 meeting, which he called a “wham doozy of a meeting.” At that meeting, commissioner Scott Bardin accused Huss of writing an “$18,000 blank check” and moved to remove Huss from the list of authorized check signers. Bardin’s motion failed for lack of majority, with Bardin and former commissioner Steven Foster voting yes, Ruth Hager voting against it and Hartmann and Draxie Rogers abstaining.

“There was definitely a motion that we should take away your check signing that was withdrawn or failed,” Hartmann said at the Sept. 1 meeting.

“He still signs checks, so it failed,” commissioner Christian Super said.

Hartmann said the commission bylaws state that the director is responsible for the financials.

“We did not change that. All we did was we said we were going to hire Rusty Windle to do accounting services,” Hartmann said.

Huss proposed an agreement that would retain Windle’s services backdated to July 1. Huss said the proposal would include weekly sessions with Windle for the first three months, which would cost no more than $950 per month. Every month thereafter, Huss said, the commission would pay no more than $650 a month for the services.

“I think this can work. For some time … I have not been part of that process aside from daily operations,” Huss said.

Commissioner Sam Dudley moved to approve the agreement and Super said he wasn’t sure about it. Super said there are alternatives to working with Windle that the commission should consider.

“I don’t agree that all this lies with the commission. Maybe some balls were dropped, but I have actively participated with providing Rusty lots of details,” Super said. “I’ve had phone calls where he said he had everything he needs. I’ve had phone calls where he said I’d receive an email and that didn’t happen.”

Bardin suggested asking city finance director Lonnie Clark to handle the finances and Super said another option is hiring an in-house bookkeeper. Parks employee Nicky Boyette is interested in that position, Super said.

“I’m not excited about hitting the reset button and not working with Rusty. I understand that’s signing up for another setback,” Super said.

Dudley withdrew his motion and the commission agreed to discuss finances in detail at its next workshop. Huss said he hopes the commission can work on follow-through in regard to those processes.

“Let’s come prepared to the workshop. I would really like this taken care of where we can function,” Huss said. “I have no issues with the finances being handled by whomever. I just want them to be handled so I have good numbers to work off of.”

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, at the Auditorium.

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