Audits Yield County-Level Overdrafts, Spending Abuses

A county official taking $92,000 in taxpayer funds for personal use. An overdraft of almost $12,000 in the solid waste account. And spending that exceeds available funds by $114,000.

That’s what state auditors have found so far in the most recent round of annual financial reviews of county governments in Tennessee, covering the 2009-10 fiscal year. And they’ve only gotten to 14 counties so far. Yep, that means they still have a ways to go before the whole state’s been given a look.

In Sevier County, former County Clerk Joe Keener II treated county funds like a private fun fund, according to audit findings dated Oct. 12. Keener resigned Aug. 30 after admitting that he had removed $92,334 from the office “for personal use,” the audit says.

“It appears a cash shortage existed during much of the period examined and that the clerk concealed the shortage by delaying deposits and using cash from current collections to deposit with checks and money orders from previous days collections. Although the clerk overrode existing internal control procedures to misappropriate the collections, other office personnel should have known of the existence of an excessive number of deposits in transit when reconciling bank statements at the end of each month.”

Auditors note that Keener made two personal deposits to pay the county back, and Keener apologized to the public in his resignation letter, The Mountain Press in Sevierville reported:

“I have acknowledged the situation and have now done everything in my ability to ensure that all funds are accounted for and properly deposited,” Keener wrote. “Now that I have accomplished this, I can resign knowing the office is in good hands.”

In Dickson County, auditors found an overdraft of $11,725 in the solid waste/sanitation fund as of the end of the fiscal year. They also found spending had exceeded appropriations in several instances, and that members of the Highway Commission were paid more than twice as much the amount allowable by law. Commission members were paid $75 per month, when the ceiling is $35, the Sept. 28 report notes.

And in Henderson County, officials spent $113,992 more than what was estimated to be available in a school projects fund, according to auditors’ Oct. 14 report.

Auditors also found that an employee had failed to return a $1,006 overpayment she received eight years ago and that an employee recognition program lacked documentation. Employees of the school department get gift cards for perfect attendance, which costs the Henderson County School Department about $25,000 a year, according to the report. But officials failed to properly document which school employees received gift cards, and both the employees and the school system should have paid payroll taxes on the cards, auditors said.

Audits can be a treasure trove for government watchdogs and curious citizens, and the public can sign up for updates from the state comptroller, which houses the Division of Audit, via e-mail or follow via Twitter.

More reading:

The Mountain Press on the Sevier County state audit, which is viewable here.

The Dickson Herald on that county’s audit, viewable here.