Audit ends small town ‘gentlemen’s agreements’

In the Jefferson County town of Baneberry, the city’s tractors and the employees who operate them are no longer available for personal yard work after criticism of the “gentlemen’s agreements” from the state comptroller’s office, reports the News Sentinel.

The state investigation found that city equipment and manpower in Baneberry, a town of fewer than 500 people, were used for grade work, bush-hogging and tree removal on private property, often at the direction of a former Baneberry mayor and a now-dead city official.

The officials are not identified in the investigative report.

Among the findings, a former city chairman of the road commission, also not identified in the report, told investigators he had an unwritten agreement with the former mayor that “he and his son could use the city’s tractor and implements as needed,” the report states. “This tractor had been previously sold by an affiliate of the former mayor to the city.”

Investigators also took issue with the city’s purchase in 2004 of the John Deere tractor without competitive bidding.

According to the report, Baneberry’s three current city commissioners — who include the mayor and vice mayor — had no knowledge of any such agreements. Likewise, Mayor Clint Hurley denied he was ever asked by a former mayor to use city equipment, the report states.

Former Baneberry Road Commissioner Jess Lunsford admitted the city provided an employee and a small grader to improve a gravel access road for a resident’s home.

“The owner paid the same taxes as everyone else, so the owner was entitled to some help,” Lunsford told state investigators. “The mayor agreed, and until the city accepted the street, we would allow the city employee to grade the street if the property owner would pay the city employee performing the work. This arrangement worked great up until now. We did not know that we were not supposed to do it.”