Macon County requests auditing assistance
As the State Bureau of Investigations continues to probe embezzlement allegations in Macon County, the county is calling in the experts to help it pinpoint any internal policy failures that may have contributed to the alleged seven-month-long, $50,000 fraud at the Board of Elections. County Manager Derek Roland hopes to bring in State Auditor Beth Wood to examine the county’s paperwork and offer any recommendations for policy changes.
“The goal of it will be to look at the recommendations from the auditor, any recommendations that they’ll get from the audit, and discuss that with the rest of the board and move in a positive direction from there,” Roland said.
The plan to bring the state auditor developed last week as Roland, County Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin and North Carolina Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, rode to a regional government meeting together. The three began discussing the Board of Elections situation when Davis floated an idea.
“Jim Davis said, ‘Hey, I can get the state auditor’s office involved, and that will save a private company coming in,’” Corbin said.
This week, Roland will talk with Wood to hash out details such as her scope of work and her schedule for coming to Macon County. He expects that her visit will help the county better decide how to move forward and is aiming to bring policy change suggestions to the county commissioners at their March 11 meeting.
The county also has the option of offering its independent auditor an additional contract for a deeper look into the county’s finances. North Carolina counties are required to undergo an independent audit each year, a process in which the auditor looks at a sampling of the county’s financial records and identifies any inconsistencies in those records or deficiencies with the system. But counties process way too much paperwork in a given year for a standard audit to capture every weakness that is present.
In its 2013 audit, the auditing firm did not identify any weaknesses in Macon County’s system, but with the Board of Elections investigation ongoing, county leaders want a better understanding of any flaws this time around. At their Feb. 11 meeting, commissioners approved the standard audit for 2013-14 but discussed amending the contract for a deeper audit later, depending on the outcome of Wood’s visit.
“What’s in front of us right now is the contract for the general audit,” Corbin said. “If we want them to do more than that, it would be a separate action of the board’s behalf.”
The interest in an in-depth audit stems from a State Bureau of Investigations probe that began Jan. 21, after Roland received a tip about questionable business practices at the Board of Elections. The investigation, which is still ongoing, turned up $50,000 in county checks requested by Board of Elections Director Kim Bishop, who has since been placed on paid investigative leave. The check requests, supposedly intended to pay four individuals for contracted work at the Board of Elections, contained allegedly forged signatures and had inadequate explanations of the work their recipients were supposedly being paid to do. The county never received any W-9 tax forms from any of the people named as contractors, and, according to court documents, none of those individuals received any of the checks printed in their name.
The whole episode has caused the county to take a hard look at its financial practices; it’s elicited plenty of criticism from the community, as well. Editorial pages, comments sections on websites and public meetings have all contained plenty of opinions on the matter.
At the Feb. 11 Macon County Commissioners’ meeting, Macon County resident Bick Drummond took advantage of the public comment period to voice his dissatisfaction with the situation, citing a need for more proactive policies.
“I believe county taxpayers are asking for more,” Drummond said.
Corbin agrees that it’s time to take another look at the county’s financial safeguards, but he cautions against the idea that any policy or set of policies offers 100 percent security.
“I think our responsibility is to make sure there are safeguards in place as best we can to prevent this kind of thing in the future, but no system is foolproof,” he said.
Editor’s note: The Feb. 5 story titled “What happened to internal controls?” neglected to fully explain Macon County’s policy on spending thresholds. As stated in the story, only purchases over $10,000 require approval from the county manger, but any purchase over $300 requires approval from the finance director and the purchasing agent. The article also drew a comparison with Haywood County, which, as stated, requires approval from the finance director and purchasing manager for any purchase over $1,000. The finance director must sign off on any purchase over $500.