How Spring Lake’s mishandled finances could lead to state takeover

As Spring Lake faces the possibility of having its finances taken over by the state, questions remain about where the town’s missing money went and how the town managed to get itself into the situation.

Former alderwoman Jami McLaughlin said her realization that something was wrong with the town’s finances “came like bullets.” She remembers a lack of transparency, such as town officials not responding to public record requests.

Rita Perry, a longtime Spring Lake resident who brought to light the town’s past credit card misuse,said the “obvious” issue is poor decisions with spending tax dollars and not having experienced people in top town positions.

James O’Garra, alderman of 20 years, pins the start of the issue on former alderman and town manager Richard Higgins’ death in 2015: Higgins was the one who dealt with all the finances on the board, O’Garra said.

Alderwomen Sona Cooper and Fredricka Sutherland each said, “Follow the money.”

State Auditor Beth Wood has said her office is investigating “missing money.” A spokeswoman for her office declined to provide further clarity on what missing money means, citing office policy against commenting on active investigations.

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