Sheriff to clear up car mystery
Jan 31, 2013 (The Laurinburg Exchange - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Sheriff Shep Jones may try to clear up any misunderstanding next week about eight patrols cars that were delivered to his office without county approval.
Jones is expected to appear at Monday's county Board of Commissioners meeting.
But the businessman who shipped the cars said that there was no misunderstand and that sheriff's officials were well aware that he was sending the cars.
"Nobody can say they didn't know," said Larry Williams, the Augusta, Ga-based auto dealer who called The Laurinburg Exchange on Wednesday to give his side of the story.
Williams said he learned over the weekend that Jones and his chief deputy reported being surprised when the new vehicles showed up on their doorstep.
"I absolutely don't believe that," Williams said. "Apparently they mistook something they heard from the county as the go-ahead to order the cars, but they did order them."
The late model Ford interceptors, valued at between $36,000 and $39,000 each, currently sit in the parking lot adjacent to the Scotland County Courthouse.
Williams said that sheriff's officials sent him car decal information, dog names for K-9 cars and car numbers in the fall of last year. According to Williams, that information is only exchanged when an order is being submitted.
"I wouldn't have known what numbers or the dog's names for the cars if they hadn't sent all that to me. That's what is puzzling to me about what they said," he said.
Sheriff Jones said on Wednesday that he did not wish to engage in a public exchange with Williams, commenting only that he would offer "a clear story of exactly what took place" at the commissioners' meeting.
The sheriff said last week that he only ever requested drafts of contracts from Williams and not actual vehicles.
While in Scotland County last year, Williams said that he took Jones and two other department members on a test drive. Not long after Williams said an order was made.
"We then had several e-mails back and forth between me and (Captain James Pegues). He came back and added several options ... and later came back and ordered cameras for the vehicles," Williams said.
E-mails from Williams to Pegues provided to the Exchange from the time in question included quotes for a variety of vehicles options but do not seem to indicate that an order had been made.
The auto dealer also provided images of the cars which he said were taken before they were shipped at the request of sheriff's department officials.
"They wanted pictures of the cars before I delivered them," Williams said.
Williams said that most of the deal making was done over the phone and in person with department officials.
Guy McCook, chairman of the board of commissioners, said that he met with Jones along with County Manager Kevin Patterson and Finance Officer Charles Nichols earlier this week to discuss the matter.
"While I think the sheriff will admit some mistakes were made and that there were some miscommunications, the commissioners have to decide at this point what their next course of action will be," McCook said.
At the January meeting, the commissioners expressed concern with how the process has been handled and delayed deciding what to do with the vehicles until their Feb. 4 meeting.
According to Patterson, only seven of the eight cars that were shipped can be afforded under the current sheriff's department budget. Among the financing options that had been discussed was a lease-purchase agreement which would see the vehicles financed over several years. That option would fit within the current budget and would allow the department to get more than the three new vehicles that had been budgeted annually.
During meetings near the end of 2012 -- around the time Williams said he received the vehicle order -- the board of commissioners asked for more information about the various financing options. The board was still waiting on that information when the vehicles arrived in January of 2013.
"Only the commissioners can approve the purchase of these vehicles and we will meet with the sheriff and I think what we are expecting from him is the assurance that whatever has happened, that plans have been put in place to make it so that this will never happen again," McCook added. "At this point we are just trying to figure out what is best for the county."
County officials have spent the past week trying to confirm that all of the upgrades and customizations to the cars cannot be found at a more competitive price.
Because the cars themselves were offered at the contract price approved by the state of North Carolina, should the commissioners choose to purchase the cars they would not be forced to submit to a bidding process.
Williams said that he understands that he may be asked to take back one of the eight vehicles, but that he would rather not take back one of the more costly K-9 outfitted cars.
"I should have been nervous when I called and told them that the first five cars were ready and they said 'I gotta talk to the Sheriff,'" he said.
"Then when I brought up the paper work with the cars, they wouldn't sign it. They said that the sheriff and the county manager were unavailable at the time to sign and that they were the only ones authorized to do so."
At this point in the process, Williams said that he is only looking for closure.
"I'm losing money every day. $4.90 daily on each car since last year."
Despite a troubled first dealing with Scotland County, the dealer who spent two decades of his life driving a police car said that he would be willing to do business with the county again in the future.
"I probably would have to deal up front and directly with the county manager, however."
The board of commissioners will meet on Monday at 7 p.m. in the AB Gibson Center.
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