The state auditor’s office found that Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell bought vehicles and gas masks without obtaining the proper written quotes, in violation of the county’s purchasing policy.
The report released by State Auditor Beth Wood said that by not following this policy, the sheriff’s office potentially overpaid for these items, wasting taxpayer money.
Between January 2019 and April 2020, the sheriff’s office purchased equipment totaling $262,000 without following the purchasing and bidding requirements required by the county’s purchasing policy. That policy requires at least three written quotes for any purchase over $7,500.
The sheriff’s office bought seven vehicles for $250,049 and 40 gas masks totaling $11,960, according to the report.
Bizzell told examiners his office researched the best prices, but he could not produce any documentation to support his statement. According to the audit, “The Sheriff stated that he did not keep any documentation because ‘if I can’t be trusted as the Sheriff, who can you trust?’”
Bizzell told auditors he bought the items as “emergency purchases,” but examiners said in the report his reasons were not applicable in these instances, and Bizzell failed to inform the county finance director of his plan via email, as required by the county policy.
Bizzell and Finance Director J. Chad McLamb told examiners the county tries to keep tax dollars local when possible. McLamb told auditors that “sometimes we don’t require three quotes if it is difficult to obtain those or we don’t get but two quotes back and if it’s an emergency situation.”
The report states that, “purchasing vehicles locally may not be in the best interest of County taxpayers because buying vehicles locally may not always result in the lowest purchase price.”
In a response to the audit, County Attorney Jennifer Slusser wrote that the Johnston County Board of Commissioners “believes when the Sheriff purchased vehicles and gas masks for the Sheriff’s Office he was acting in good faith seeking to save taxpayer money while obtaining vehicles and equipment necessary to serve the citizens of Johnson County.”
Bizzell, in his response, said the county manager and finance director “have verified [that the sheriff’s office] always sought to save taxpayer money.”
But the report notes that the sheriff’s office “did not provide documentation that this verification took place.”