An employee’s request to take property that belonged to the Patrick County Economic Development Authority (EDA) for personal, at home use revealed a gap in county policy.
The employee, who is not being identified, offered to pay for the appliance – a refrigerator, and has since returned it.
But in an email last week, County Administrator Geri Hazelwood wrote that the county does not “have a written policy on disposing of assets/items that are no longer needed. They are either recycled, auctioned, or disposed of.”
The item was in a building formerly occupied by Results Stuart. It was among the items remaining after the company relocated its operation to Martinsville.
The building, and its contents, are owned by the EDA, which is part of the county, but is a separate subdivision that falls under the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Act.
The EDA is overseen by a volunteer board that includes representatives from the business community.
Because the EDA owned the refrigerator, the county employee emailed its board members to ask for the appliance.
An April 22 email stated, “… I’m writing to see if you all would be okay with me having one of the refrigerator’s (sic) left in the Results cafeteria for my home? I don’t have one yet, and that would be one less item that we would need to clear out. Please don’t feel any pressure to approve. I’ll understand if not, but I wanted to check and see if you’re amenable to it.”
Responses ran the gamut, from EDA board member David Lusk, who wrote, “I have no issue with it. Need any help moving it?” to Harold Gregory, who requested an estimated value of the “refrigerator you want ($20 – $25)? Why not make an offer?”
Other board members cautioned against the idea.
Bill Clark, EDA board chairman, wrote, “I have to say my guiding principle on this sort of thing is that I ask myself would I be happy seeing this gift of assets published in the report to stockholders or published in the newspaper. If I were to have heartburn over that full disclosure, then I hesitate to endorse the activity. In other words, if there is the appearance of a conflict of interest to us, there surely is to the general public.
“I would not support this request because of the appearance of a conflict of interest and some sort of self-dealing by one of the county’s higher paid employees. I think the risk of bad press over a refrigerator far outweighs the benefits.”
“Avoid this at all costs,” Glenn Roycroft wrote. “… The refrigerator and all the other assets (no matter how trifling) at Results not claimed by the school board or the board of supervisors need to be disposed of at auction, which is a completely arm’s length way for the county to realize the value and dispose of an asset. Items not auctioned should be scrapped or carried to the transfer station. County citizens are especially sensitive at this time and are generally skeptical of ‘all things county government’ and might view such an event along the lines of one of us using a county car for personal use,” he added.
Ron Haley, vice chairman of the EDA board, wrote that he believed “the county has a guideline to follow for an employee to purchase/receive county assets. Although the EDA owns the refrigerator, we still fall under the county purview. If county admin says ok, I’m ok with it.”
Although he was aware of the refrigerator flap, Clyde DeLoach, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, said he believes it resulted from a misunderstanding between the EDA and county administration.
“It was a misunderstanding because it was left in the Results building, but who did it belong to, to start with,” he asked.
Deloach, of the Blue Ridge District, speculated the refrigerator initially belonged to the county, but “the EDA took over since they were getting the building. It was confusing,” he said.
Hazelwood wrote that county assets include “all buildings, facilities, structures, vehicles, lands, grounds, and parking lots owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by the” county.
For instance, the Recreation Department is part of county government, she wrote. However, the EDA is a separate entity with its own audit and asset list.
Deloach said he was surprised to learn a policy is not in place regarding asset disposal. He said he thought the issue was among regulations included in a Statement of Ethics recently approved by the board.
Brandon Simmons, of the Dan River District, said he learned about the refrigerator issues by email.
He, too, believes the county needs and should have a policy that specifies how it will handle disposing of assets. “The county’s already working on that,” Simmons added.
Doug Perry, of the Smith River District, also he learned about the situation after the fact. He noted that current policies regarding asset disposal are vague, and must be more specific.
“The property was EDA property, so it should have been their call. If we have a policy in place, then it needs to be followed,” he said.
Additionally, Perry said he believes the situation resulted from a lack of communication between the county administration and the EDA.
“We need better communication and more specific” policies, he said.
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, and Clayton Kendrick, vice chairman, and of the Mayo River District, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hazelwood did not return multiple calls for additional comment on Monday.