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David pushes for more transparency in county finances

VICE CHAIRMAN T.D. David quizzed auditor Tom Carmichael Tuesday.

A report on the county’s financial status from its auditor Tuesday turned into a discussion about how county finances can be made more transparent.
Vice Chairman T.D. David voiced concerns to auditor Tom Carmichael of Carr Riggs & Ingram about an apparent lack of information provided to the board.
“Ninety percent of what we do on this board is financial. We spend money on aligned priorities and we try to get the biggest bang for our buck. Accurate, timely financial information is vital. We need it at our fingertips,” the vice chairman said.
He noted that Finance Director Mary Mayer has the initial responsibility for county funds, but the ultimate responsibility is on the board of commissioners.
“I have approached Mary in the past and she has been very diligent with the internal controls she knows she needs to exercise for her office, but by the same token I’m trying to make sure we have full knowledge to make good decisions. Heretofore we’ve had a budget report every month that shows budgeted expenditures to date and that’s about it,” David said.
He told the auditor and his fellow commissioners, “This is not Mary’s fault. It’s our fault for not requesting more information.”
David will soon be retiring as the chief financial officer for Ira Higdon Grocery Company and he said he will have more time on his hands and he plans to delve deeper into the county’s finances.
He asked if different personnel are sent in each year to conduct the annual audit and he also questioned how frequently audit testing is done during the course of 12 months.
Carmichael said that the audit personnel are not always the same, but he said the audit testing was less than frequent. “We are primarily looking at that Dec. 31 number,” he said.
David also noted the county has approximately 20 banking accounts and during his tenure on the board he has never been provided an accounting of all of those accounts.
“Much to Mary’s disdain I will be retiring in a week or so so I will have more time on my hands. I don’t want to be a meddler and I’m not looking to perform audits, but I want to get a full picture, a balance sheet or an income statement that gives us a good perspective on the whole county. Something that shows the big picture,” David said.
The vice chairman also questioned the finance director’s apparent carte blanche on such matters as renewal of certificates of deposit.
“Does she have the authority to change terms or to put the money in another bank?” David asked.
Finance Director Mayer said she had had that authority since she was hired and that was how it was done by previous finance officers.
County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley advised the board adopt a resolution granting the finance director that authority if the board so chose, but he said the certificates of deposit should be put out for bid to all of the local banks upon maturity.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs said he thought the county administrator had the authority to invest the funds and not the finance director.
The auditor also said the bank where county funds are deposited must collateralize the deposits. “Normally we see resolutions on CDs,” Carmichael said.
Vice Chairman David recommended the board no longer “do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done it” and encouraged setting up new policies and procedures regarding finances.
“The bank accounts he (David) is referring to are SPLOST accounts and each SPLOST project has to have its own account. That’s required by law and that’s the reason you have so many accounts. Maybe that should have been explained to T.D. before,” Chairman Billy Poitevint commented.
David then challenged the chairman and asked if he had ever seen an accounting on each and every one of those accounts. “I don’t care what the accounts are named or how many we have, but we need to be aware what is in them and the activity in each account. I’ve never seen a report on those funds,” David said.
“The SPLOST was passed and designated certain amounts of money for that purpose and that money cannot be used for any other purpose. If we do you’ll wind up in front of the Grand Jury,” Poitevint responded.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland weighed in and said, “I understand what he is saying. I know we have different accounts because of SPLOST but what T.D. is saying as a commissioner I need to know what is in those accounts and how it is being spent. I’ve only been here six months and I’ve never seen a report on those funds.”
“I just want full disclosure,” David added.
He added, “It’s just good business practice to look at the different accounts. She has carte blanche control of the accounts back there and I’m not doubting the right thing is being done, but it is coming from one chair and one chair only. We need to have that information.”
“One person having that much control over this board of commissioners doesn’t weigh well with me,” Commissioner Copeland said.
David suggested County Administrator Carlos Tobar look into the issues raised and “satisfy yourself. Be mindful of the comments made this morning and go from there.”
“I just want to see more transparency,” David added.
Commissioner Charles Norton told his fellow commissioners that since Mayer was hired the county’s annual audit was clean and did not have any corrective actions required. “Before she came almost every audit we got had some corrective actions required,” he said.
After listening to the discussion Auditor Carmichael said he could work with the finance director to produce a “high-level” report that would give a snap shot of the entire county finances without a lot of additional work for Ms. Mayer.
David said he was not looking to add additional work to Mayer, who he said has “got a full plate as it is.”
Carmichael said he thought the report would be something that could be easily pulled together on a monthly basis to share with the board.

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