sign cost $2,797.37,
nearly double what we reported
- The Pit apologizes for any inconvenience
this understatement may have caused
- By GEOFF DAVIDIAN
Putnam Pit editor
- COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (Feb.
17, 1997) -- In a story about District Attorney General Bill
Gibson's use of his economic crime fund to paint his name on the side of
his office, The Putnam Pit inadvertently reported the wrong cost.
- The story
stated that General Gibson spent more than $1,500 to paint his name and
information about services provided at his Cookeville office on the sides
of the building at 145 S. Jefferson Ave. Records from the Putnam County
Trustee's office show that General Gibson shelled out $2,797.38 for the
work that other sign painters in town said was worth from $600 to $800.
- The Pit reported that "[a]lthough he
was not required to put the job out to bid, sign painters around town were
raising their eyebrows at the price he paid -- about double what other
firms would have done it for."
- Other painters contacted in the original story showed
surprise that the figure was "more than $1,500."
- The money to pay for the sign came from General
Gibson's economic crime fund, which is replenished by court
costs and fees.
- One lawyer criticized Gibson's use of the money
to paint his name on the building as "vanity," and questioned
whether the expenditure would fall under the purpose of the fund.
- Another observation came from a painter, who said
the lines on the building added considerable cost to the job, bringing
attention to the sign but no information.
- Shortly after the sign was completed, the owner
of Chapel Signs told The Pit that Gibson had worked closely with
her on the design. She said the idea was to inform the public about the
services that were offered at the site.
- On the parking lot side, however, the services are
not listed, only Gibson's name and title and the line extending the depth
of the building west from Jefferson.
- Gibson, whose controversial first term as the district's
chief prosecutor ends next year, already has been told to put back money
he improperly spent from the Drug Task Enforcement Fund to pay professional
taxes for his staff.
- What the law says
- According to the office of the Tennessee Attorney
General (Opinion No. 89-59-1989)
- "The Fraud and Economic Crimes Protection Act
[T.C.A. Sec. 40-3-201, et. seq.] established a schedule of fees to be paid
by victims and defendants in connection with prosecutions for economic
crimes. These fees are to be collected by the clerk of the court, and deposited
with the County Trustee in the county of the residence of the district
attorney general [T.C.A. Sec. 40-3-207(a).
- "Expenditures from the fund are to be made at
the sole discretion of the district attorney general.
- "The purpose of the act is to provide district
attorneys general with the resources necessary to deal effectively with
fraud and other economic crimes, and to provide a means for obtaining restitution
in bad check cases prior to institution of formal criminal charges. [T.C.A.
Sec. 40-3-202 (1990)] This statute also lists some of the purposes for
which the district attorney may expend such funds."
- It was unclear to county officials whether Gibson's
expenditures were governed by guidelines at the state or county level regarding
the amount above which a governmental entity must put a job up for bid.
- Gibson did not return calls from The Pit
asking about the sign or if it was put to bid.
- An official with the Tennessee District Attorney
General Conference told The Putnam Pit that while the conference
itself asked for bids on expenditures greater than $500, the rule would
not apply to Gibson because Gibson's funds are held by Putnam County's
trustee, not the conference or the state.
- Meanwhile, the county apparently has several standards.
- Some offices require bids on anything costing more
- Gibson's office made no single payment for more
than $1,000, but ordered four separate checks be written to Chapel Signs
- Sept. 3, 1996 -- $162.38; Check No. 3840, First American Bank
("Design of building; $100 of which will be applied to material if
[Chapel Signs] receive[s] the [contract]");
- Sept. 19, 1996 -- $980; Check No. 3880, First American Bank
("Material and designs");
- Nov. 1, 1996 -- $900; Check No. 4014, First American Bank ("Final
Payment for labor.");
- Nov. 19, 1996 -- $755; Check No. 4059, First American Bank ("Painting
building parking lot side.")
- Randall Gentry, an aide to Assessor of Property
Byron Looper, said that there is no requirement for his office to put items
to bid, but they put items out for bid anyway to avoid going before the
County Board to ask that money be shuffled between budget accounts should
they run short of funds.
- Looper's sign cost about $75, he said.