|Updated: 5/14/2012 6:17 pm
||Published: 5/14/2012 6:10 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The head of Arkansas' Veterans Affairs Department retired suddenly Monday, four days after state auditors questioned whether his agency suffered from lax oversight of its finances.
Legislative auditors found that a state credit card was used at liquor stores, beauty salons and pet shops and that nearly $200,000 in inventory was either lost or insufficiently documented. Agency Director Dave Fletcher met with Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday and tendered his resignation afterward.
"It became pretty clear that change was going to be needed at some point," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.
Fletcher, 70, said in a letter to the governor that he had been contemplating retirement for some time, felt it was right "in light of recent events" and would leave office immediately. He acknowledged that "mistakes have been made" at the agency that runs two veterans nursing homes and two veterans cemeteries.
"I am proud of what we've accomplished during my five-and-a-half years leading the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. There is no doubt in my mind that the department will continue our initiatives to help our veterans and our state in the best possible ways," Fletcher wrote.
Beebe thanked Fletcher for his service but agreed a change was needed.
"... It's become evident that new leadership will be best positioned to re-examine practices and policies and to determine how best to manage the department's finances," the governor said in a statement.
Thursday, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee questioned Fletcher about an employee's private use of a state credit card last year and poor tracking that led to budget shortfalls at the Little Rock Veterans Home. Another employee of the agency noticed the purchases and notified agency officials after first confronting the employee using the card, Fletcher told auditors last week.
The Legislative Audit Division found $197,405 in equipment missing or improperly recorded, including a power mower, a gas range and oven, a computer and an ice machine. The department financial officer said only a copier purchased in 1980 was missing and other items had eventually been accounted for.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper of Little Rock reported last week that the agency also had collected maintenance fees from nursing home residents after federal law prohibited them.
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