Audit of $19,000 lectern purchase by governor's office expected by end of March, lawmakers told

Legislative Auditor Roger Norman (left) and the lectern identified by the Sanders administration as costing $19,029.25 are shown in Little Rock in these 2023 file photos. Norman was attending a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 12, 2023, and the lectern was displayed in the Governor's Conference Room at the state Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Legislative Auditor Roger Norman (left) and the lectern identified by the Sanders administration as costing $19,029.25 are shown in Little Rock in these 2023 file photos. Norman was attending a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Audit Committee on Oct. 12, 2023, and the lectern was displayed in the Governor's Conference Room at the state Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The audit of the purchase of a $19,000 lectern by the governor's office will be finished by the end of March, Legislative Auditor Roger Norman told lawmakers Thursday.

It's the latest update in the almost five-month-long investigation of the purchase of the lectern, which has drawn national headlines and prompted an investigation by legislative auditors.

Speaking to the executive committee of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, Norman said auditors have interviewed 20 individuals so far and will likely continue their field work on the investigation "at least through next week."

"We have sought to gather all relevant communications and financial records surrounding the purchase and the reimbursement of the podium," Norman said. "Currently, the audit special report is in the draft stages. Barring no delays in the finalization process, we anticipate a final report by the end of March."

In June the governor's office purchased the 39-inch custom Falcon Podium and travel case from Beckett Events, LLC of Arlington, Va., which was bought using a state credit card. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders contends the purchase didn't come at the expense of taxpayers because the Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for the lectern purchase.

The purchase, revealed through a records request by attorney and blogger Matt Campbell, prompted state Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, to request an audit of the purchase. Hickey said he was concerned a state credit card was used to make the purchase.

Sanders said she welcomed the audit and said she is confident no wrongdoing would be found.

When the report is complete, the decision on how and when to release it will fall to the co-chairs of the executive committee, Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, who can choose to release the final report early, call a special meeting to have auditors present it, or wait until the committee's meeting in June.

When asked, Gazaway said he was hesitant to say how the committee will publicize the report, adding that he and Wallace will need to review it before making a final decision.

"If we see the report and we don't think it's thorough enough or we have some issue with the report, then we may not want to early release it. We might want to go back to audit and say, 'Hey, we think you ought to do x, y and z,' " Gazaway said. "We may think that, you know, based on the report that it needs to be released immediately.

"I mean, it's just hard to say. I don't know at this point."

The audit of the lectern purchase has taken longer than Norman originally anticipated. Norman told the committee Thursday the report has been delayed by holidays and inclement weather in January.

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