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Carroll County performance audit now underway

April 24, 2014
OSSIPEE — Work has begun on the performance audit of Carroll County business functions being conducted by Massachusetts-based Matrix Consulting Group. That company was the winning bidder and will perform the county delegation project for $27,000.

The work is expected to take 12 weeks and is expected to conclude with a final report and presentation to the county delegation. Consultants were expected to be at the County complex on April 23, first attending the weekly county commissioner's meeting and then meeting individually with the three commissioners and with business office and human resource department staff.

The project timeline is broken down into six steps. First, the consultants will "fully evaluate the operations of the county commissioner's office." They will be looking key operating issues, policies, procedures, and internal controls.

Next, the Matrix proposal indicates, they will move into assessing the "level and extent of satisfaction with administrative services in the County and compare operations to 'Best Management Practices."

They will also delve into what policies and procedures the County has in place, including those for purchasing, contracts, employee management, and will test to see if the procedures are being followed or how they can be improved.

Matrix consultants also plan to evaluate the current staffing requirements including whether or not Carroll County should have a county administrator. The focus on this audit will be on the administrative offices but consultants will also be making recommendations as to other areas of county government that should be audited.

The final report will be presented to the county delegation before the 2015 budget cycle kicks off this fall so that any cost items can be considered in that budget.

The performance audit process has been delegation-driven. It was the approval of the 15-member county delegation made up of state representatives that set the process in motion and approved the budget. The request for proposals and contract finalization as well as this month's project start date was all coordinated by a delegation subcommittee chaired by Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom).

Last fall when selling the idea to his fellow delegates, McConkey did not mince words. He said the reason the county delegation chose to go through the audit process is to analyze the way things are being done. He said it is time to bring in an independent voice because the county has "problems, real problems."

The group discussed some of the alleged problems, including no systematic formula or plan for hiring new staff, limited policies and procedures in place, lack of financial controls, and the delegation having to do work that should already be done by the commissioners "but apparently they are too busy," McConkey noted.

The administrative functions of the County have been riddled with missteps and questionable practices with no one person in charge of the daily operations, such as a county administrator. The audit is expected to consider what is being done right, what is being done wrong, and how to implement change.

The delegation also appointed a subcommittee to look separately into whether or not the time has come for the county have an administrator. Some of the most notable problems have been the inability to maintain staff, with the commission having six minute takers quit over the course of the past three years as well as two human resource directors. One of the directors filed a grievance against County Commissioner Asha Kenney while the other apparently received a privately negotiated buyout when she quit. While it appears the commissioners have finally gotten a handle on preparing, storing, and making publicly available their meeting minutes, it has taken a long time to get to that point.

Commissioners have struggled with compliance of the state's right-to-know law, being taken to court last year for failing to comply with the law and release public documents and are currently being sued, accused of violating that law again. That case is still pending.

Their office suffered a blow last year and brought into question the financial practices when a former business office employee pled guilty to stealing about $12,000 through multiple transactions over the course of a year. According to court documents she wrote several checks to herself that she took from a box of blank checks that were left unsecured under a desk in the office. The theft was discovered at the end of the year when the finance manager was balancing the checking account to close out the books for the year.

Then there was the question, brought forward by newly-elected County Commissioner David Babson last year, why the County has not been having full financial audits annually. Commissioners have awarded the financial auditing project that is now underway to audit 2011 and 2012. The commissioners made other suggestions that were passed over by the delegation including hiring another person to work in the business office and money to implement an electronic file storage program.

"My concerns is the commissioner's office does not have controls in place…you can rest assured this means therefore the departments don't have these controls in place," said McConkey, "I hope [the performance audit] proves me wrong."

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