Cashing personal checks and using public funds for personal use are two of several concerns noted in the recently released state audit of the Madison County Clerk’s Office.

However, there is more to take into consideration than what is on paper, said Billy Gabbard, county clerk.

“They’re making this sound like it’s horrible,” Gabbard said. “It’s not horrible.”

The 2006 audit from Crit Luallen, the state auditor of public accounts, was released April 15 and noted financial concerns (see accompanying story), and some relating to the procedure of internal operations.

“If an official doesn’t have strong control or oversight of his or her office, then these findings are common,” Luallen said. “Our audit points to weaknesses in the clerk’s office and recommends ways to improve them. What’s less common is a personal check being written for personal use from public funds, which was one of our findings. The clerk did repay this money; however, our auditors recommend that the county clerk only use the imprest cash account for official business.”

Auditors reported that the county clerk should “prohibit cashing personal checks” and “prohibit the use of public funds for personal purposes.”

“I didn’t see a big deal about cashing a $10 check to go to lunch on,” Gabbard said.

However, he has since addressed the issue and is strictly enforcing it in his office.

“The memo was sent around telling people there would be no more cashing personal checks for any reason,” he said. “I don’t care who asks for it.”

Public funds, personal use

Another concern for the auditors was a $2,640 check Gabbard wrote to himself out of the imprest cash account, which is an account maintained for minor cash or check disbursements.

“The County Clerk received the training incentive payment from the Finance and Administration Cabinet in July but did not deposit the funds back into the imprest cash account until December,” the audit reports.

Gabbard was approved for the payment in April and was told by a Finance and Administration Cabinet representative that he would receive his check in two weeks, according to his response printed in the audit.

“I called (Finance and Administration Cabinet Director) Marie Bramblett and I said, ‘Marie, I’m taking my kids on vacation, I’d like to have my money,’” Gabbard said. “She said, ‘Billy, write it out of your imprest cash account, and when you get it back, put it back in there. It’s exactly what I did. And she said, the crazy thing was, I know exactly where I was standing when I talked to her. She said, ‘I’ll have to call you back with the amount.’ How would I have known what to write it for?”

Bramblett has since retired from the FAC office. The audit states that “as a result of the transaction, the couny clerk did not have enough money in the imprest cash account to pay election workers in November and required a $2,669 transfer of fee account funds to the imprest cash account to cover payments to election workers.”

Gabbard responded in the audit that he did not think he had used the public funds for personal use.

“I wrote the check, I went on vacation, when I got back, to be honest with you, I didn’t put it back in there until November because I didn’t remember it,” Gabbard said.

“(Bramblett) has done that before,” said Christian County Clerk Mike Kem. Christian County’s population is close to that of Madison with about 80,234 citizens, which means the county clerk’s office operates under the same procedures. “I have done that a couple of times for employees, but I haven’t done it for myself. I have advanced funds to employees because I think employees generally want to be paid and I did that out of the imprest account also. That is the proper way to do it.”

However, Jack Snodgrass, Campbell County clerk, whose population is the next highest after Madison County, said he has never used the account to pay himself or employees.

“We call it petty cash here,” he said. “Basically we do that for quick items, maybe running to Sam’s Club to buy something or an office supply company like Staples or something like that. Maybe we might have used it for contract work, sometimes reimbursement for travel.”

But when asked about using it to write checks to himself or others, Snodgrass responded: “No, ma’am.”

‘Lack of training’

The auditor’s report noted that certain jobs in the county clerk’s office were not being performed “due to the lack of training and knowledge.”

This most directly affected the bookkeeper from doing certain jobs, according to the audit.

However, Gabbard said it was not a matter of not asking for training.

“We would go two and three months, calling and begging to get our bills paid, and it was a nightmare,” he said. “After numerous requests to FAC over the last year for additional training, the clerk and bookkeeper were finally granted a training session with FAC before this audit was completed.”

The state auditor’s office recommended that the county clerk recount the deposit, agree to the deposit ticket and initial to show review.

“Since this audit, we now have a second person to review and reconcile,” Gabbard said.

There is some confusion as to why the auditors report their comments to the county clerk, when in Madison County’s case, a lot of the office’s procedures are done by the state, he said.

The County Fees Systems Branch oversees personnel, payroll, training, disbursement of funds and other administrative duties and “Acts as the fiscal officer for the county clerk and county sheriff in counties with population over 70,000,” according to information from the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet.

“Twenty-five percent of that goes directly to the county and it’s paid to them (quarterly),” Gabbard said. “Seventy-five percent of that money stays with the state and they pay our bills with it. I don’t have any control of how the state pays a bill. I don’t write a check. I don’t sign a check.”

A county clerk, who is a fee official, is in charge of his or her office and all of his or her accounts, Luallen said.

“The state, the Finance and Administration Cabinet, is the processing department for these fees/funds,” she said. “So county clerks are responsible and in charge of all aspects of their office, which is why the audit recommends that the clerk’s office seek training in its oversight of the 75 percent account.”

Everything corrected

Everything auditors have asked of the Madison County Clerk’s Office has been corrected, Gabbard said. “I don’t want anyone to think that I’m hiding anything.”

It is important that all government offices operate efficiently and transparently, but those rules also should include the offices in Frankfort as well, he said.

“I question who audits (the FAC),” he said. “They have to be accountable. I’m not trying to lay blame on anyone. They’ve had some valid points. But in their defense, they’re great down there. They try very hard. They have to do every sheriff’s office in the state and these big clerks’ offices like us and four or five others. They are overwhelmed.”

Gabbard is not letting the noted concerns in the audit put a damper on his confidence, nor should it make citizens question his ability to perform duties as county clerk, he said.

“I plan to be county clerk as long as I can physically do it,” Gabbard said. “I enjoy my job and have no intentions of not running for re-election.”

Gabbard was elected Madison County Clerk in 2002, re-elected in 2006 and plans to campaign again in 2010.

Visit www.auditor.ky.gov to view the complete audit for the Madison County Clerk’s Office.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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