Sunset, Arkansas, loses state funds over accounting irregularities

SUNSET, Ark. — There is plenty of rumbling in Sunset, and a new mayor is left to clean up a big mess on the city's books.

Erica Parker, the new town recorder,  told WREG in an exclusive interview Thursday night that mounds of documents show problems that she as the new city accountant must fix.

"No pre-numbered receipts, no pre-numbered checks, just basic 101 accounting skills were not being done by the city," Parker said.

As of last October the state started pulling away funding to Sunset. First it took away half of the $1,200 a month the city received and as of January all of it.

Sunset officials say the loss of those state funds will definitely impact town projects.

When WREG went to City Hall on Friday, new Mayor Lensey Hayes was reluctant to even talk about it.

"The ex-mayor has family here. We are just trying to fix the problems and move forward," Hayes said.

Parker said checks were written to former Mayor Eddie Craig and his family members with no documentation or receipts.
She also says loans were taken out without the proper notification.

WREG obtained a state audit from September 2017 that spelled out even more. It said Sunset paid thousands on the former mayor's personal account and even though he said it was for town expenditures, there was no documentation.

According to the audit,  Sunset paid the former mayor for additional services without authorization.

We tried to track down the former mayor to explain the spending. He never answered at the homes we went to.

The audit also found issues with City Recorder Margaret Stringfellow saying she did not properly report salaries, prepare financial reports, and post cash receipts and disbursements.

The former town clerk wasn't around either.

For the small town of Sunset, with just 200 people, the state funds help with keeping the town clean and taking care of issues like drainage.

Incoming City Councilman Louis Jamison says it's a mess but one he and other council members are committed to fixing.

"Work with us, work with us. Hand-and-foot, all together, we can get this job done," Jamison said.

And some in the small town where everybody knows each other are holding off judgement until they see what's what.

"I would have to know a little more about it before I passed judgement on it," said Calvin Garrett, who was born in Sunset.

Sunset will have until April to get its house in order. That's when state officials will meet to determine if state funds will once again flow to the town.

WREG also talked with state auditors Friday and they say what's happening in Sunset is rare.

Out of hundreds of municipalities only three or four have had their state funding pulled for not cleaning up their accounting.

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