Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why wait so long to audit city expenses?

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee did the right thing when he orderd an audit of the city's travel and expense account outlays. Few abuses can do more damage to the reputation and credibility of a public official or public body than fraudulent expense accounts and extravagant travel spending. Just ask rising young GOP congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois, currently fending off reports that he used thousands in campaign donor and taxpayer funds for private airplane rides and other questionable uses, including a Katy Perry concert with his interns.

To the credit of the 27 top city executives and 10 lower-level but heavy traveling employees, Charlotte's audit didn't find much in the way of blatant abuses. Officials found improper expenses in just 3 percent of the $123,581 tallied by the employees in the 2013 budget year. "Not outrageous," Carlee called it, adding that many of the missteps stemmed from inattentiveness to detail. All the improperly disbursed money has been repaid.

Carlee, hired in 2013, said he conducted the audit because, as the new guy, he's charged with making sure the city is following best practices. Apparently, it had not been doing so on this front. He said that to his knowledge, such an audit had never been done. City Auditor Greg McDowell says he can't recall a full expense reimbursement or travel audit in his 17 years at his post. An audit of city-issued payment card spending had been done a few years ago, but McDowell said he couldn't speak to just how long it might have been since a broader audit like the latest one had been done.

That's concerning. This was just an audit of a handful of the city's 7,000 or so employees. Who knows what else would have been found in a broader sweep? McDowell says he sees more audits in the future.  "As City Auditor, I have committed to future audits of employee expenses on a regular basis," he said in an e-mail. "The City Manager and Council will likely expect (the) same; however, audit plans are developed annually. There are no policies or directives that require specific audits, or a timeframe."

Members of the City Council's governance and accountability committee seemed satisfied that the audit didn't uncover major problems. But if they want to make sure that continues to be the case, they should enact policies to require departmental or broader audits on some reasonably regular basis.

--Eric Frazier


Robert Whitworth said...

Hey guys you have such made a great example, I love your thinking power that you share your words with us. http://aqmauditing.com