The Scotland County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to purchase six of the eight Ford Police Interceptors that Sheriff Shep Jones said arrived without his approval in early January.
A contrite Jones revealed on Friday that it was Captain James Pegues of his office who gave the errant go-ahead and ordered the eight vehicles. Jones said that he merely wanted to look at sample contracts prior to Pegues’ decision.
According to Jones, neither he nor his chief deputy spoke with Georgia-based car dealer Larry Williams after a test drive with the dealer in September 2012.
“I had no other communication with Larry Williams until Jan. 7, the day the vehicles (arrived),” Jones said. “(County Manager Kevin Patterson) said it was a good idea (to buy the cars via a lease-purchase arrangement) but that it would need to be approved by the board … Captain Pegues went a step further and ordered the vehicles.”
It was after reading the comments of the Ford dealer in The Laurinburg Exchange newspaper that Jones said that he thought “there might be some credibility to some of these stories.”
“Last Thursday (Pegues) said that he did order the vehicles,” said Williams, adding that Pegues cited a confusion with the proper process as the reason for his mistake.
Jones said that Pegues would be disciplined.
In the compromise vote, which featured a lone dissension by Commissioner Whit Gibson, the board agreed to purchase six vehicles using funds from this year’s budget and next year’s budget, at an expense of approximately $220,000 to the county.
Following their current purchase schedule, which is to buy three cars each year for the Sheriff’s Office, the county would be expected to spend approximately $189,000 over the next two years.
According to the motion approved by the board, the remainder of that balance could be financed during the next fiscal year.
Gibson said that when he first heard of the mix up, he questioned whether the comissioners were being “manipulated.”
“(Now) I’m pretty confident that there wasn’t any evil intent,” Gibson said.
The meeting was occasionally contentious, with Commissioner Clarence McPhatter stopping at one moment to question the leadership of Chairman Guy McCook.
“I don’t know why you’re chairman no way, man,” said McPhatter to McCook during a discussion about the vehicles.
McPhatter seemed to favor buying as many of the vehicles as possible, saying that it was only the egotism of the commissioners that made the board choose to purchase fewer vehicles.
“It ain’t about the citizens of Scotland County,” McPhatter said. “I know what it’s about, you know what it’s about.”
Following the vote Chairman McCook said that he regretted that the situation ever arose and that he was pleased that the board was able to put together “something that works.”
Commissioner Carol McCall said that she valued the transparency that the discussion with the sheriff allowed for.
“We were going to have cars … this is about the process and that it be done with complete transparency.”
The board’s decision would allow for the Sheriff’s Office to keep six cars, all outfitted with cameras that the sheriff said would be important to protecting the county and its citizens in the future. Two of the six cars to be purchased will be those outfitted with the additional K-9 package.
Legally the board was in the clear to go-ahead and purchase the mistakenly ordered vehicles because they were offered at North Carolina state contract price. The board also confirmed prior to agreeing to purchase the vehicles that the components were included at a reasonable price compared with offers from other dealers.
Lobbying for more cars to be purchased, the sheriff cited an increase in demand on his vehicles created by the transporting of mental patients and prisoners, as required by the state.
Jones said part of the problem is that 40 percent of his fuel is spent in mandated prisoner transport.