After several residents across the community voiced concerns, The Covington News took action and decided to publish a four-part series over the next few weeks explaining what P-cards are, analyzing the usage and spending habits of Newton County P-card holders, and uncovering why residents are calling for change.
Before Dorothea Bailey-Butts stepped down from her position as coroner May 28, Newton County had approved the issuance of purchasing cards (P-cards) for 51 employees.
P-cards were first introduced to Newton County officials as a “more efficient, cost-effective” way to complete purchasing transactions.
“The program was designed as an alternative to the traditional purchasing process for supplies and services,” per the county’s P-card program policy adopted by the Newton County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 20, 2013, resulting in a reduction of the number of purchase orders and related documents such as invoices and checks.
“Essentially the P-cards are to be utilized as a more effective, ‘cost effective method of purchasing and paying for small dollar transactions,’” Newton County Finance Director Brittany White told The Covington News. “Employees still have to formally submit purchase orders for all purchases over $5,000. Prior to [a] policy that was adopted in 2016, the purchase order threshold was $2,500 for all purchases.”
The traditional spending method, which is practiced today by employees without P-cards, requires employees to enter a purchase requisition, which entails providing the following information:
• The date the requisition is filled out and submitted to financial administrative services.
• A definitive date the department/employee needs the material of service. For routine purchases, requisitions should be submitted seven business days in advance of when the purchase is needed. Formal bids or proposals are needed six to eight weeks in advance.
• The name of the department the purchase is for.
• The account number, including the fund number, the department number.
• A “requisition number,” which is defined in the county’s policy as the requesting department’s identification number.
• The item number, to be listed separately and consecutively.
• The quantity of each item and the ordering unit.
• An item description, including detailed specifications such as brand names, model numbers, size, color, type, grade, etc.
• An “exact” location where the items are to be delivered.
• A list of suggested vendors to purchase the item(s) from.
• The unit price.
• The line total.
• The total of the requisition, per vendor.
• Justification, or brief explanation of why the product and/or services are needed.
P-cards essentially put an end to the monotony that accompanies submitting purchase orders, but as the P-card policy states, they are not intended to “bypass or avoid appropriate purchasing procedures.”
White said P-cards work similarly to a personal credit card.
“So the charge is made and then we receive a monthly statement with all the transactions for that monthly billing cycle,” she said. “The cardholder then puts together the log sheet with the account coding and description and turns that in to [the finance department] with the receipt copies.”
The P-card policy requires all users to keep every receipt, packing slip and charge slip for documentation.
Once the activity log and other necessary documentation is completed, the policy calls for cardholders to send that information to their superior for approval. In some instances that may be an elected official, and for others it may be a department head. After reports are OK’d, the paperwork is then forwarded to administrative services for payment.
Total amounts billed are charged to the individual departmental accounts, per the policy. So as an example, when P-card transactions are made by a sheriff’s office employee it is funded by monies within the sheriff’s office budget. The county’s budget is primarily made up of revenue generated through taxes. Newton County’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year is $118.6 million. Commissioners hope to approve the budget by Aug. 3.
Only two P-cards are not directly tied to a single department budget, White said. Those include one for the finance department, currently held by White, and one for the purchasing department, currently held by director Randi Fincher.
“The finance and purchasing cards are utilized to be checked out by departments who do not have P-cards, so those two cards may come from various department budgets,” White said.
In order to become a P-card holder, one must first qualify and then apply.
To qualify, the applicant must be an employee of the Newton County government. The application must be approved by the applicant’s department head or an elected official, according to policy. Once approved, prospective cardholders must review the policy and procedures, and sign the Purchasing Card Agreement in front of the county’s P-card administrator.
P-cards are issued in the name of the individuals of various county government departments applying to become a cardholder, and all purchases made with the P-card must only be made by that cardholder. P-card spending does not affect cardholders’ personal credit.
To date, there are 50 county employees with P-cards. When Bailey-Butts resigned, her card was returned and later cancelled, which was proper protocol. As readers will see next week in Part II of this series, the former coroner only made one purchase with her P-card on April 30, totaling just more than $450, which was spent on office supplies at Office Depot.
Once appointed interim coroner, Tommy Davis did not inherit Bailey-Butts’ P-card, nor did he apply for one, according to White. She believed Davis did not have a P-card at any point during the previous 12 years he spent as coroner.
Of the current cardholders, 20 are employees of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Ezell Brown.
Brown and Tax Commissioner Marcus Jordan are the only constitutional officers who possess a P-card. Clerk of Courts Linda Hays and Probate Judge Melanie Bell do not have P-cards.
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes is the only elected official among the Board of Commissioners to have a P-card, and because of this, he sometimes uses his P-card to pay for things like training courses for other commissioners, White confirmed.
District Attorney Randy McGinley also holds a P-card.
Banes and Fincher have the highest monthly spending limit at $20,000. Eight cardholders, including Keep Newton Beautiful Manager Laurie Riley, Public Defender Terri Hall and six sheriff’s deputies have the lowest monthly spending limit at $500.
Brown and Jordan each have a monthly spending limit of $5,000. McGinley’s limit is $1,500.
Prior to her resignation, Bailey-Butts had a monthly spending limit of $5,000.
The combined total of all 49 P-card user’s monthly spending limit equates to $155,500.
Current Newton County P-card holders and their associated monthly spending limit:
• Cynthia Wiemann, Animal Control — $1,000
• Nwaka Hughes, BOC Office — $1,500
• Latonja Threets-Hamp, BOC Office — $1,500
• Marcello Banes, Chairman— $20,000
• James Brown, Cornish Creek — $5,000
• Sanquanish Rockmore, Cornish Creek — $2,500
• Leslie Smith, DA’s Office — $5,000
• Christine MacDonald, DA’s Office — $1,500
• Randy McGinley, District Attorney — $1,500
• Jody Nolan, EMA — $1,500
• Wendy Peacock, EMA — $5,000
• Jason Johnson, Facilities — $5,000
• Brittany White, Finance — $5,000
• Randi Fincher, Finance — $20,000
• Bradly Todd Stapp, Fire Services — $5,000
• Michael Conner, Fire Services — $5,000
• Billy McCullough, Fire Services — $1,500
• Amanda Shoemaker, Human Resources — $5,000
• Tim Singley, Information Systems — $5,000
• Scharita Greene, Juvenile — $3,000
• Kendra Mayfield, Juvenile — $4,500
• Janell Gaines, Juvenile — $4,500
• Laurie Riley, Keep Newton Beautiful — $500
• Terri Hall, Public Defender — $500
• James Palmer, Public Works — $5,000
• Greg Sullivan, Recreation — $5,000
• Teresa Williams, Senior Services — $1,500
• Freda Reed, Senior Services — $2,000
• Brice Smith, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• Billy Leazer, Sheriff’s Office, — $2,500
• Marty Roberts, Sheriff’s Office, — $5,000
• Mike Cook, Sheriff’s Office, — $2,500
• Brandy Burch, Sheriff’s Office, — $2,000
• Ezell Brown, Sheriff, — $5,000
• Vincent Loveless Jr., Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Brandon Esque, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• Jerry Carter, Sheriff’s Office, — $2,000
• Sammy Banks, Sheriff’s Office, — $2,500
• Jack Redlinger, Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Amanda Peters, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• Keith Crum, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• William Bowen, Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Donnie Granger, Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Demeca Howard, Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Terrance Spring, Sheriff’s Office, — $500
• Selena William, Sheriff’s Office, —$1,000
• Richard Howard, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• Ary Grijalva, Sheriff’s Office, — $1,000
• Kathy Kitchens, Superior Court — $2,500
• Marcus Jordan, Tax Commissioner — $5,000
P-card users are also required to keep their spending under the assigned amount designated at the time the card is issued. Per policy, the county, through administrative services, sets the spending limit for each cardholder, and maintains the power to adjust the limit, if needed.
Any cardholder who doesn’t abide by any aspect of the policy is subject to revocation of the P-card, disciplinary action and even termination.
Of all the rules found within the 12-page P-card policy and procedures framework, the one stating P-cards are “not for personal use” remains under scrutiny today, particularly from residents. The policy states the cards must be used for buying “supplies that are deemed necessary for the operation of the county,” and for “legitimate business purposes only.” P-cards may not be used for “entertainment, alcohol or cash advances.” In recent weeks, as well as years past, many residents have accused officials of misuse, alleging some purchases previously made public could be classified as personal and illegitimate concerning county business.
Next week, in Part II of a series on P-cards, The Covington News will examine the usage and spending records from June 2020-June 2021 for each P-card holder in Newton County.