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State Audit Raises Questions About Keokuk County Official's Purchases

The Keokuk County Emergency Management Coordinator appeared to short the agency a few thousand dollars when buying a new county vehicle, according to an investigation by State Auditor Rob Sand.

According to the report, in August of 2018, EMA Coordinator Larry Smith was authorized to purchase a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado and trade in the agency’s 2006 Ford F-350. The net purchase price of the new vehicle totaled $35,810, after the Ford was traded in for $800. Smith then bought the Ford back from the dealer on the same day at the same price.

But according to Sand’s analysis, that $800 valuation significantly underestimated the Kelley Blue Book value of the vehicle, which totaled approximately $6,600 to $12,500, and the National Automotive Dealers Association value of between $9,100 and $14,400.

“Because the trade-in was valued below its worth, the County paid more for the 2018 Chevrolet Silverado than they should have. In addition, Mr. Smith purchased the 2006 Ford F-350 at a significant savings,” reads a report on the investigation signed by Deputy Auditor of State Annette Campbell.

According to the report, Smith said the dealership had a “bad experience” with that series of Ford, which he says is prone to engine troubles, factors which he said contributed to the low valuation. The analysis states that a salesman for the dealership said the trade-in value of the truck was low due to wear and tear, rust and engine issues.

The report also identified $932.18 in agency expenses that may have been improper, and $16.26 in expenses that were improper.

Sand’s office recommended that the Emergency Management Commission implement a policy to ensure the maximum trade-in value is received when purchasing new vehicles, as well as ensuring that all agency disbursements are reviewed and approved by commission members and are sufficiently documented.

The investigation was prompted after the county’s former 911 coordinator contacted Sand’s office with concerns about Smith's purchase and trade-in of the vehicle and other purchases. Smith and Keokuk County Attorney Amber Thompson did not respond to a request for comment on the report’s findings.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter