LITTLE ROCK — Members of the Arkansas Fire Protection Licensing Board told a legislative committee on Friday that a lack of training was the reason they did not notice irregularities in the former executive director’s handling of the board’s finances.

LITTLE ROCK — Members of the Arkansas Fire Protection Licensing Board told a legislative committee on Friday that a lack of training was the reason they did not notice irregularities in the former executive director’s handling of the board’s finances.


The board’s treasurer told the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee that until recently she did not know what a "P-card" was. The board’s vice chairman said he had not even known who the board’s director was.


Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed a lawsuit last week in Pulaski County Circuit Court against the board’s former director, Catherine Gray. The suit alleges, based on state audit findings, that Gray used her purchasing card, or P-card, for $8,519 in personal purchases and for another $6,907 in purchases for which she submitted no supporting documentation.


The suit also alleges that Gray requested and received another $6,680 in direct reimbursements, with about $4,600 of the reimbursements based on inadequately documented requests, and that under her leadership the board improperly used funds appropriated for fiscal 2014 to pay $8,556 worth of obligations incurred in fiscal 2013.


By Friday afternoon Gray had not filed a response to the lawsuit. It was unclear whether she had a lawyer.


The Fire Protection Licensing Board regulates businesses that sell, install and service fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems. Gray served as executive director from 2010 until she resigned in April of this year.


She is in the process of paying back the state and so far has paid $3,358, according to the attorney general’s office.


Auditors told the committee Friday the board has had declining fund balances for the last three years in a row. They said their audit findings would be forwarded to the office of Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley.


Sheila Caudle, a former member of the board’s staff who recently was installed as executive director, told the committee the state Department of Finance and Administration has been advising the board on strengthening its internal controls.


"This will not happen again, I hope," she said.


Mark Hall, the board’s vice chairman, said, "We have learned a lot in the last six to eight months about what our responsibilities are as a board member that we didn’t know before."


Marylea Gazette, who has been the board’s treasurer for four years, testified that in the past she did not routinely review the director’s receipts.


"I wasn’t even sure what a P-card was until now, actually," she said.


Gazette said the director will no longer have a P-card, and "the board will do a better job of reviewing all of the expenses and budget and everything that is tied to any part of the account."


Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, co-chairman of the committee, asked Gazette if she received any training when she became treasurer.


"Not any specific training, no sir," she answered.


Hammer said a lack of training appears to be a common problem with state boards.


"I’m not throwing you all under the bus, I’m just making the observation that sometimes I wonder if individuals in situations such as this (board) are adequately trained to know what to look for to catch and detect things earlier, instead of having this kind of experience," he said.


Hall said that when Gov. Mike Beebe appointed him to the board in 2006, "we had nothing. Nobody told us anything, nobody sent us a pamphlet."


He added, "I didn’t know (Gray) worked for us. I thought this woman … worked for DF&A."