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Should the public trust county audits ever again?

The dust may be close to settling with the financial misdeeds un-covered in the magistrate court that went back at least two years. A 25-year employee of county government, Allen Wigington, pled guilty to numerous counts of improper use of the county credit card.

The former chief magistrate’s guilty plea makes it easier and simpler to call for action by county government without any concerns about influencing a jury or condemning Wigington before his day in court.

So, let us state clearly, it’s well past time for the county to look at what happened in Wigington’s crimes and be sure their house is in order. Have a crooked employee fool us once, shame on him, but if you don’t take actions to install safeguards then shame on us.

With his admission, there is no disputing that the former elected judicial official regularly took the county credit card on Amazon.com shopping sprees. As the investigation documents piled up, it was found that Wigington charged everything from hotel nights to mattresses to casual clothing to the county. 

The open records request of the magistrate’s credit card bill shows this wasn’t a devious, ingenious crime. In some cases Wigington used false receipts to hide misdeeds but in others, he made few attempts to hide the purchases. The amount and frequency of purchases at Amazon alone should have thrown up red flags galore. On many months, the magistrate court’s total credit card spending was half of all county credit card spending, roughly $4,000 a month on  Wigington’s card out of around $8,000 total for the all county departments. 

It stood out. Did no one notice until the warrants were taken?

Taxpayers have expressed disappointment in Wigington, who was a fixture in county politics for the past quarter century and was mostly well-respected. They have also expressed anger over a government employee living large ($40,000 a year or so) buying their electronic ear wax removers out of our tax money. People across the nation are already scornful of government at any level and cases like this stoke the fire.

Up until now, the people who have been surprisingly silent are the folks over at the county admin. building where those credit card charges were paid every month - the people who kept writing the checks for the illegal spending.

There has yet to be any statement from county government that they were appalled. Maybe they were holding off until the case was settled? 

But surely now our county commissioners and finance team over there will set the record straight. How did the exorbitant spending go un-noticed, un-reported, un-checked and un-stopped for the two years that the GBI and sheriff’s investigators found the constant improper use of the county credit card?

And do we have something set up to prevent it from happening again?

Keep in mind that the commission chair when this occurred is no longer in office and the chief financial officer in charge during that time is set to retire. So, our new commission chair can flip the page, but first, the public has the right for some answers.

We have questioned in this space before and restate it now, is the yearly county audit performed by an independent outside firm of any value? It sure let a whopper of a fish off in this case. Why should the public ever trust an audit of Pickens County government again? 

The cost of an independent auditor to answer some of these questions on behalf of the county government will be expensive. But public confidence that our government is intent to stopping these abuses of power is priceless.