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Jackson to contract audit of permitting department

fr jacksonplanningJackson County Commissioners were upset to discover last week that no one’s been enforcing the county’s mountain and hillside development ordinance for more than two years.

And while Permitting and Code Enforcement Director Tony Elders assured all involved that he and his staff would personally review all permits issued within the last two years — as well as the permitting and planning process itself — commissioners didn’t think an internal review would do the trick. Right now, they’re searching out an independent firm to do an audit of the Permitting and Code Enforcement Department. 

“Obviously, we could have done an internal review and used county staff, but in order to ensure we’re getting an accurate review of what’s happening and say without question, ‘These are the facts,’ we felt like it was good to have an independent outside agency to come in,” said Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan. 

The issue stems from 2012, when Elders’ office was separated out of the planning department as a “one-stop shop” for builders. Gerald Green, who earlier this month resigned his post as the county’s planning director, said he’d been told that enforcement of the steep slope ordinance would be handled out of Elders’ newly created office, while Elders told the planning board he’d believed it was Green’s responsibility. 

All that has left commissioners skeptical of how things are being handled in the Permitting and Code Enforcement Office, and they believe outside help is needed to get an objective take on what’s going on and how it could be improved. 

“Tony could tell us that he’s taken care of everything, no problems now, and I wouldn’t know any different,” Commissioner Vicki Greene said, “but someone who has experience in building and code enforcement can come in and look at the records and say, ‘You need to look at this step now.’”

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The county is currently working with David Nicholson, outreach associate for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, to come up with a scope of work for the audit. 

County Manager Chuck Wooten said he hopes to have the document done and some proposals submitted for one of the commissioners’ June meetings. With the scope of work still in development, he said, it’s impossible to guess at how much the audit might cost — “We haven’t even talked about whether this is a $5,000 project or a $50,000 project,” Wooten said — but McMahan said he doesn’t expect it to be prohibitive. 

Wooten wants to make it clear that he does not see the audit as an investigation — rather, he said, it’s an opportunity to learn how to do business better in the future. 

“I think this is a chance to make sure that those responsibilities are clearly identified and tasks are assigned to the appropriate area,” Wooten said. 

Greene and McMahan agreed that the audit is not an investigation but are forthright about the fact that they’ve heard some concerning things and want to know the truth. 

“We want the review,” McMahan said. “I think the board has been very clear on that.”

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