Hassle over audit still unresolved

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webmaster | 11/07/13
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The conflict involving Madera County Treasurer-Tax Collector Tracy Kennedy Desmond, county Auditor Marcia Hall, county Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming and the Madera County Board of Supervisors continues to simmer.

At Tuesday’s meeting, a plan to hire the forensic accounting firm Hemming Morse of Fresno to keep an eye on Kennedy Desmond’s conduct of her office was tabled when supervisors received a letter during the Tuesday meeting from Kennedy Desmond saying, in effect, she would not cooperate with any further investigations of her office.

Hemming Morse audited the treasurer’s office earlier this year after auditor Hall called the supervisors’ attention to what she felt were inappropriate practices in Kennedy Desmond’s office. A report by Susan K. Thompson, CPA, of Hemming Morse found 18 deficiencies of varying degrees of seriousness in the way money is handled in the treasurer’s office, and made recommendations on how to correct them. Kennedy Desmond wrote in her responses to each of the recommendations that she agreed with them and would work with the auditor-controller’s office to implement procedural improvements.

In her report on the most serious deficiencies, Thompson writes that failure to correct the procedures “could result in errors, omissions, misappropriations or concealments.”

Thompson also writes that she was not hired to find out whether any money was missing, but rather to analyze procedures. “Had we performed additional procedures,” Thompson wrote, “other matters might have come to our attention that would have been reported to you.”

Kennedy Desmond was first informed of the concerns over deficiencies in her office procedures at a private meeting with some county officials late last year. Hall, also a CPA, presented them in public in early March, and the supervisors ordered the audit.

When the Hemming Morse report was issued, the supervisors indicated they would like to see a follow-up by that firm to make sure the recommendations were being followed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors weren’t all in favor of pursuing the follow-ups — which would take place every two months. Supervisor David Rogers, for example, said he was hesitant to spend any more money on it. Supervisor Rick Farinelli, on the other hand, said the matter should be pursued. “We can’t sit here for years and years and still have the same problem,” he said. Supervisor Manuel Nevarez said, “I think an independent outside source is merited.”

This conflict among elected officials gives rise to a broader question, which is whether the jobs of the treasurer-tax collector and auditor-controller should become appointive positions. Kennedy Desmond claims a certain amount of immunity to outside interference, — reflected in her written refusal to cooperate in any more probes into how she manages her office. The implication is that, because she is elected, the supervisors can’t make her cooperate.

A number of counties are changing from elective to appointive models for jobs such as these, which more and more are requiring technical expertise that voters are in no position to gauge. When the positions become appointive, they are filled by professionals rather than grassroots politicians.

Once this latest hassle is resolved, it might be a good move to talk about putting the appointive model idea before the voters either next year or in 2016.

 

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