DeFuniak Springs Mayor speaks about investigation

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DEFUNIAK SPRING, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The state attorney's office has launched an investigation into how the City of DeFuniak Springs operates.

NewsChannel 7/Local 18 News spoke with both Assistant State Attorney Clifton Drake as well as DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell to hear what he had to say about the investigation into the city.

For the past few years, the City of DeFuniak Springs has been delinquent when it comes to filing financial paperwork to the state of Florida, sparking an investigation by the State Attorney's Office

"You know the first I heard about the investigation, there was some subpoenas here, but no one knew why or, not even a general idea why the States Attorney's Office was sending out some subpoenas," said Campbell.

"We're currently starting a preliminary investigation into the financial operations into the city of DeFuniak Springs. It was brought to our attention that there were certain documents required to be filed with the state that wasn't filed in a timely manner. And apparently that happened on more than one occasion," said Drake. "So we're in the process of trying to figure out what exactly happened. Why did it happen? And starting our investigation from that perspective."

"Honestly all I know is that they are looking to see if there was any type of, I guess, criminal intent or deception or anything of that nature. Which I'm fine with that," said Campbell. "I think that everybody, the council, the finance directors, there has been more than one that has had problems. The managers, there have been more than one who has had problems. And I think there has been more than just this council that has had problems."

And according to Mayor Campbell, he believes it was a lack of experience that lead to this issue getting so out of control.

"I think everybody was just not paying attention and didn't realize the severity of what this could turn into. So, at this point in time, I don't think the District Attorney's Office is going to find anything where someone did anything corrupt, but you will probably find out where we have a lack of procedure and a lack of accountability," Campbell said.

"It is somewhat concerning that you see it happened in one fiscal year. The city did become current with the reports but then the next year the same thing happened again and so that's something else we're looking in at," Drake explained.

Campbell also pointed out part of the City's problem was not filling the financial director's position once it became vacant.

"The first delinquency I was talking about was with a finance director who was terminated back in 2015. Sadly we did not hire a finance director. So we went eight months or more without a finance director. That was a bad call on our side," Campbell explained.

But because of their lack of timeliness, the city is suffering the consequences.

Because of the delinquency, the state has withheld a total of $220,000 of sales tax the city would have otherwise been entitled to.

"I think everybody was pretty caught off guard with that, but by the time we found out, we had already lost the funds for early part of 2017. So it was a little bit late to start trying to reel it back in," said Campbell.

"They get a letter sent from the state to the city, explaining this is delinquent, you need to submit this. If you don't, we're going to start withholding funds, which I believe it was in the neighborhood of $220,000," explained Drake. "I'm still gathering documents, talking to witnesses to find out the exact dollar figures, but that's my understanding."

"They had some people say I was trying to keep this from the council. That is not true. I did say that if we're gonna get our money back in about four weeks, then we don't need this to be blasted all over the news because it looks bad and we get our money back, no harm done. Well little did I know, we weren't going to get all our money back," said Campbell. "In the bare minimum of this investigation, find out that we're putting procedure and policy in place this won't happen again."

Campbell said they are currently in the process of hiring a new financial director, as well as a new city manager

He said he believes once they fill those positions with qualified people, they should not face this issue again.