District Approves Vacation

Rice's Time Off To Be Paid With Taxpayer Money

— The Boston Mountain Solid Waste District Board agreed on Tuesday to use taxpayer dollars to pay 30 days of vacation owed to former director Maylon Rice, fired nearly two weeks ago after reported financial impropriety and mismanagement.

The 30 vacation days equaled $6,633 to be paid by Washington and Madison counties and the 10 member cities. The district didn’t have enough cash in its payroll account to cover its $16,500 in biweekly wages plus the vacation payment, according to a financial document handed to the board. 

At A Glance

The Boston Mountain Solid Waste District Board agreed to pay former director Maylon Rice 30 days of vacation. Two counties and 10 cities will pay:

Fayetteville: $2,276.70

Springdale: $1,972.32

Washington County: $1,180.17

Madison County: $408.34

Farmington: $184.85

Prairie Grove: $135.52

Johnson: $103.78

Elkins: $81.93

Tontitown: $76.12

Huntsville: $72.59

West Fork: $71.69

Lincoln: $69.59

Source: Washington County

Rice admitted taking two weeks from work to campaign for state representative, according to a investigation by Dan Short, chief of staff to Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards. Rice admitted to not documenting those two weeks from his vacation time nor other instances where he took up to three days at a time for “outside employment,” according to the report. 

Edward’s is the district’s chairwoman. She recused from voting during the Sept. 13 meeting when Rice fired because of a 20-year friendship with him. 

She presided over Monday’s meeting. After, Edwards declined to comment about Short’s investigation after she said she had not read his report. 

Larry Oelrich, who serves as Prairie Grove Mayor Sonny Hudson’s proxy, was the only board member to point out the two weeks Rice reportedly took from work. He asked interim director Ralph Prince, if he was able to verify the correct amount of vacation time. 

“All I have is what I have in QuickBooks, our accounting program. It shows he has 240 hours,” Prince said. 

After the meeting, Oelrich said he felt the vacation payment wasn’t appropriate after reading Short’s report. 

“The problem, I think, is with documentation and apparently there’s not good documentation. So we’re probably stuck with it,” he said. 

Rice attended the meeting, but left halfway through to attend a City Council meeting to make a presentation on Fayetteville Public Library reading program. 

He said last month he started working at the district in August 2009 earning a $57,500 salary. The district makes between $1 million and $1.2 million in revenue and spends about half in wages and salaries, Prince said after the meeting. 

Short’s investigation centered on alleged theft, mismanagement of district money, including grant money, and mistreatment of employees, customers and associates. 

The county released portions of Short’s investigation last week, after a Freedom of Information request was appealed to the state’s attorney general because Rice objected to its release. 

Issues about alleged financial improprieties surfaced in May when district staff approached Edwards, according to email last month from Prince to board members. 

Those issues included buying a $21,000 truck using incorrect grant money. Rice also reportedly used $15,000 in grant money for employee salaries to help pay for a building’s construction. 

“At that time, practically nothing was done about the situation and no board members were told about this,” Prince wrote. 

Something was done but not reported to the board or employees, said George Butler, county attorney, before Monday’s meeting. Edwards, Rice, Short and Butler made a conference call in May with a member of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which issued the grant money, Butler said. 

After the call, Edwards drafted a letter to Roger Lawrence, solid waste division chief at the department, summarizing the resolution to the matter, including repaying the $15,000 grant for employee salaries. The district also had to place the truck out for a bid, then re-purchase the truck with correct money in order to repay some of the grant. 

Lawrence told Rice and Edwards that letter first needed the board’s approval before sending it to him, Butler said. Rice didn’t place the matter at the board’s July meeting and Edwards and Butler forgot about the issue, Butler said. 

Rice admitted using a district credit card to pay for a $111 hotel bill in Little Rock where to stayed to file for state political office, according to a section that discussed alleged theft in Short’s conclusion. 

“When asked why he did not pay for the room out of his own funds, his only response was, ‘I’ll pay it back,’” Short wrote. 

Short requested from Sandra Smith, the district’s tire program manager, to review all expenditures made by Rice where he used his debit card, credit card or checks. Six days later, she submitted 97 pages of 167 purchases that totaled $10,934 in “suspect expenditures.” 

“Maylon Rice has, during the course of the past three years, made it a practice to use his (district) credit and debit cards to purchase meals and food items for himself, his guest, employees, work-release workers and other associates, all contrary to the best and approved practices of Arkansas law and federal law,” Short wrote. 

That near $11,000 in expenditures could have helped make payroll, Prince said Monday after discussing the expenditures. 

Smith submitted an invoice owed by the Fayetteville Public Library for the disposal of fluorescent light bulbs. The invoice was for $805, Smith told Short but she was later asked by Rice to reduce the amount by half, according to Short’s investigation report. 

Rice, who is the treasurer for the library’s board, submitted a library check with his signature for $402, according to Short’s investigation.

Short interviewed more than 14 people, including West Fork, Fayetteville and Madison County employees about Rice. The majority rated Rice’s interpersonal skills as below average, Short wrote. 

“These same persons also advised the district would be better off if Maylon Rice was no longer the director,” he wrote. 

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