New questions raised in Bradley County surveillance van sale

New questions raised in Bradley County surveillance van sale

April 5th, 2016 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Eric Watson

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

A Bradley County, Tenn., commissioner on Monday had more tough questions over how the sheriff's office handled the sale of a county surveillance van in February.

Some commissioners have questioned why the van, which they say had more than $100,000 worth of surveillance equipment aboard, was sold to a Nashville bail bondsman and businessman for $20,000.

At the county Finance Committee meeting Monday, Commissioner Dan Rawls pressed Sheriff Eric Watson to explain why there was so little documentation for the transfer of a costly county asset — not even a bill of sale, just a copy of a cashier's check with no notation what it was for.

"We don't have anything tying anything together," Rawls said. " I don't see a paper trail here. All I see is we transferred a vehicle out of our possession that was worth a considerable amount of money and now we have a $20,000 check but that check doesn't tie to anything.

"To be honest with you, I don't like the way that smells. I think this needs to be looked at further," he said. " I would like to have an investigation done on this. I want to know what went where. I want a bill of sale. I want all of that. To show that this check went with this van when it was for this amount."

Finance Committee Chairman Milan Blake said whether to call for an investigation would be up to the full commission.

Watson defended the sale, saying the county got the best deal it could for what he called "obsolete" equipment. The sheriff's office tried to sell the 2006 van on GovDeals.com, where it frequently disposes of surplus property, but Watson said the top bid of $12,000 was well under the $30,000 reserve price set for the vehicle.

So, he said, he took the van to the Tennessee Sheriff's Association's winter expo in Franklin, Tenn., in January. He said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation looked it over and didn't put in an offer. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said it would pay $12,000, he said.

"Call them and ask them," the sheriff said. "The van was there; we didn't have one bite on it."

Rawls had asked Watson's office for all paperwork related to the van, but the sheriff's office said there was none.

At one point in the meeting, Rawls waved papers he said listed the equipment and prices for the original installation in 2006, and one for an upgrade in mid-2014 where the VCRs had been replaced by digital equipment.

Rawls responded: "This came from your office. I'm surprised you don't have the paperwork."

He said the employee who was trained on the van insists that all the equipment was up to date, usable and worth far more than the van sold for.

Watson asked to see the receipt for the most recent work, noting it took place before he took office.

Watson said Monday that he came into office in September 2014 to find a jumble of supplies and equipment with no asset numbers, which are used to track property. He said he had to get a judge to OK the disposal of any number of junked or unusable items.

And, he added, a shredder van was parked outside the sheriff's office for two or three days after his election but before he began work.

"I can't tell you what got shredded," he said.

Finance Committee member Charlotte Peak said the decision when and how to sell the vehicle should be the sheriff's.

"I don't really care what was in the van or wasn't in the van," she said. "It's not [for] us to decide what they sell their vehicles for, their equipment for or anything else.

" I'm not micromanaging anybody, and I don't have time to go through all their records every day. I don't think that is our duty to do. If we did that, we'd have to start tearing every department apart and find out what they're selling stuff for and how they're selling it."

Plus, she noted, "[The buyers'] check cashed. They paid for it. It's out of our hands, we can't get the thing back."

Watson said his office from now on will provide full documentation, including invoices, receipts and photos, of equipment it wants to dispose of.

On Monday night, the full Bradley County Commission was to discuss a resolution creating an ad hoc committee to review and revise rules for handling of county assets.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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