In two separate cases last year our county government pledged audits of government departments.
In the spring, in the magistrate court, the county government/ criminal investigators called for a full “forensic” audit of the court’s operation in light of financial charges against the chief magistrate. This audit has not been started, but is expected – perhaps it will still be of some value if finally done.
Regardless of how the trial of the former chief magistrate for financial crimes goes, the investigation revealed shocking examples of lax oversight of the county credit card.
When you have resort hotel stays and personal purchases show up on credit card bills there was clearly a problem, and the public has the right to know that the county has closed whatever loophole permitted that spending to go unabated for at least the past two years.
Every year the county pays for an outside audit of all their finances and gets an annual glowing report, but if month after month of irregular purchases go undetected, one questions the usefulness and integrity of the yearly checks? Those audits will be defended as not designed to look at items like credit card purchases, which leads us to question what good are they at all? We certainly won’t rely on them as any indicator of good stewardship any longer. Heck, the suspicious items - mattresses, toys, clothing - stood out like a sore thumb when an average citizen filed an open records request.
We were hoping the forensic audit promised by the county would shed some light on how the thousands in questionable purchases slipped by month after month. And we wonder whether other parts of the court operation may have been similarly pillaged?
In April, 2020 the Progress reported that a full forensic audit of the magistrate court had been ordered by the county government. At that point the county attorney said the audit had gone no where due to COVID restrictions on auditors travelling here for face-to-face interactions. Let’s hope it really is still in the works.
In August 2020 the board of commissioners announced their intention to have a basic audit of the tax commissioner’s office completed so the new head of that department (which is charged with collecting all property taxes, car tag payments and more) could get a fresh start after numerous complaints arose about his predecessor who had resigned suddenly.
An audit of what happened in the past term may seem like water under the bridge at this point, except for the fact that in December our county marshal said he would finally be able to collect past due permit fees on mobile homes. The marshal said that for much of 2019, they couldn’t go after delinquent mobile home owners as the prior tax commissioner had used a software program with so many problems that the marshal didn’t feel comfortable pursuing cases. The billing was so inaccurate that writing a citation with them “would make us all look foolish,” the marshal reported to commissioners.
The marshal commended the current office-holder for straightening the mess out.
So, that problem is fixed, but are there others? When the board of commissioners holds a special meeting to address the situation and calls for an audit, the public rightly expects it to be carried out and released at some point – even if it is just to give an all clear.
We would suggest that our new commission chair put assessing the state of those audits high on his priority list.
The sheriff’s office, where Commission Chair Kris Stancil came from, wanted the court audit back last year to see how widespread the problem was. Well now that Mr. Stancil is on the job, it’s high time they got it.
In both instances, the public has a right to know that problems have been corrected. The audits should proceed with haste and transparency.