February 21, 2013

State audit shows issues for sheriff to fix

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

GRADY COUNTY — A December audit of Grady County offices found two major areas of concern in the sheriff's department.

The non-existence of a proper inventory system and a lack of money deposits and receipts concerned state auditors according to their report.

Current Sheriff Jim Weir said he would combat both issues in the audit. Weir said he would hold periodic inventories and make sure daily deposits and receipts were taken to the county treasurer's office.

Weir is battling the flu and was unavailable for comment.

Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma State Auditor's office said this was the first audit in Grady County since 2006.

He said when state auditor Gary Jones took office in 2011 only 25 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma were in compliance with being audited every year over a two-year period.

"Some counties had not been audited since 2005," Davis said.

As of Jan. 10, 64 counties were in compliance with annual audits and the rest are slated to be completed by June, according to Davis.

Issues like those found in the sheriff's department are common, said Davis.

"We find problems like this involving inventory, or a lack of internal control a lot in departments that change leadership in mid-fiscal year," he said.

Although the state auditor's office can recommend what departments need to do in order to improve their efficiency and results, they have no authority to implement regulations.

"The audit reports are intended as tools to help government officials and managers safeguard public assets," he said. "The audits are public record which may, in itself, serve as an incentive for a public official to implement one or more of the solutions offered in the audit report, but there’s no enforcement mechanism attached to it."

When audits do occur, members of the state auditor's office tend to flock to the treasurer's office to find the information needed to perform the audit.

"They ask a lot of questions we can't answer," Robin Burton, Grady County treasurer said. "They want to know what the money is used for, but that's not what my department does. We are just the county's check book. We can't tell anyone what to do with their money."

If illegal actions are found over the course of an audit, the auditors will notify appropriate local authorities, Davis said.

"Depending on the finding and the potential or discovery of embezzlement, a copy is also provided to the attorney general," he said. "Both entities retain prosecutorial discretion and may not pursue a matter identified in an audit report but we don’t control that either. We just provide the facts as an independent examiner of financial records, internal controls, policies and practices.

Currently, the state auditor has 38 staff members capable of conducting county audits in five offices spread across the state.