Okaloosa County officials say they are not sure when the state Auditor General’s Office will begin its audit of county finances and the Clerk of Court’s office.
The state’s Joint Legislative Auditing Committee ordered the sweeping audit Feb. 11 after questioning county officials about the Mark Bellinger fraud scandal. The committee, which is comprised of six state representatives and five senators, oversees the Auditor General’s Office.
“It appeared that the committee’s direction was to allow the AGO to work this as the AGO’s time permits, so it’s hard for us to speculate on what that might represent, not knowing their workload,” he said.
County officials say they are certain the audit will require a significant amount of time and manpower. It will examine all of the county’s internal departments —from parks and recreation to human resources — as well as Clerk of Court and its divisions.
“Anytime you’ve got audits going on, it’s going to take up staff time,” Clerk of Court Don Howard said. “You’ve got to interface with the auditors and provide the information they need.”
Howard said county employees likely would be busiest helping the auditors in the early phases.
“On the front end of the audit there will be fieldwork,” he added. “It interrupts the day, there’s no question about that.”
Howard said the bulk of what county employees will provide is “information and access.”
The lawmakers on the Auditing Committee ordered the audit because they were not satisfied with the county’s response to Bellinger’s fraud scheme, which was discovered in May 2012.
They specifically criticized the county for not firing, suspending or disciplining employees who were involved in approving any of Bellinger’s illegal or unauthorized purchases from May 2010 to May 2012. Lawmakers repeatedly scolded county officials for not including those kinds of personnel responses in its corrective action plan submitted to the state.
However, Curry said the purpose of the corrective action plan was to respond to specific policy and procedural problems found by the Auditor General’s Office.
“The board’s responses to this operational audit were designed to address the specific findings and recommendations outlined by the AGO, and not to provide a mechanism for the county to outline staff disciplinary actions or other personnel issues,” he said.
Curry said “internal staffing matters continue to be under review” by the board, his office and the county’s human resources department in conjunction with attorney Greg Stewart, a special counsel to the board.
Curry, who answered questions at the Feb. 11 hearing in Tallahassee, said he expected more scrutiny from the auditor general.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “I do think they’re going to find some very, very different circumstances under the other county departments.”
He said he does expect the audit to turn up specific “findings.”
“I don’t know of any audit by the AGO that didn’t result in some recommendations to strengthen processes and options to tighten controls,” he added.
The audit could start around the same time the county hires a new county administrator to replace Curry, who will retire sometime between May and October.
Curry said he doesn’t see the audit as a factor that would discourage potential candidates from applying for the job.
“That’s something I think would be welcomed in terms of identifying any potential areas of weakness coupled with any suggested changes to strengthen the processes,” he said.
Another position that could be affected by the audit is the new internal auditor commissioners are planning to hire in coming months.
Curry said the new internal auditor would be expected “to work closely with the AGO” to gather the data and other information it needs.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.