Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Friday that she requested the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's probe of the city's community development department.

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Friday that she requested the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s probe of the city’s community development department.

The Commercial reported in Friday’s edition that the HUD investigation resulted in the federal agency’s contention that the department “improperly spent” $199,907.89 in HUD funds and failed to properly document an additional $279,161.23 in expenditures for the 2012 program year.

HUD says the city must repay the initial amount or have the sum cut from its 2013 HUD funding. If documentation on the other matters is not provided, that amount would have to be repaid or forfeited from 2013 funds as well.

Hollingsworth, interviewed in her office Friday, said such HUD audits are not conducted on an annual basis. She said she and her administrative assistant, Evelyn Horton, met with officials of HUD’s Little Rock office in March and requested the examination.

“I had had some concerns with the department, and I thought I needed to know where we are and where we’re going with community development,” Hollingsworth said. “I had no idea what might be discovered, but felt that if some problems existed, we needed to bring them to the forefront, get them corrected and wipe the slate clean before moving forward. If problems aren’t fixed, they tend to become bigger and bigger.”

Hollingsworth said she’s been in contact with a person who has “expertise in the area of community development” for “private consultation.” She declined to name the individual.

“I just want to make certain that I’m dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s correctly,” she said. “I want to respond to all of this in just the right way so I can possibly help save the city additional expense and embarrassment.”

The HUD report was dated June 4 and its corrective actions requiring the city to provide requested documentation had a 30-day window. July 4 is the 30th day, but since it’s a holiday, it’s assumed that July 5 will be the deadline.

“The current status is we’re allowing community development to research each of the findings for which HUD is seeking supporting documentation,” the mayor said. “I know that personnel’s busy with that. Once they’re done with that phase, the outcomes will dictate their next steps. Right now, I’m uncertain what that might be.”

Clinton E. Johnson, director of community planning and development in HUD’s Little Rock office, did not return a telephone call Friday. Johnson signed the report’s cover letter, addressed to Larry Matthews, acting director of the city’s community development department.

To read the full HUD report, click here: