SANTA ROSA BEACH — The Walton County Clerk’s Office and the county commission remain at odds over a document that details thousands of dollars in potential spending abuses by commission members.
The two sides can’t even agree on what to call a report filed by Kelly Cornelius, the audit manager under court clerk Alex Alford.
Since the report was made public on June 30, the commissioners and their lawyer, Clay Adkinson, have criticized Alford for publishing a document that failed to meet accepted auditing standards, which would have allowed the commissioners to examine abuses among other things. county purchase cards assigned to them.
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Although the clerk was mostly silent in dealing with the report itself, on August 22, Alford’s chief attorney, Sidney Noyes, wrote to the county to advise officials that the investigation being conducted was not not an audit.
The letter was in response to one written by Adkinson to Alford on August 10, advising him, as the lawyer had previously stated publicly, that an investigation into the acquisition cards should have been undertaken using standards of audit established, that many findings in the report were flawed and called for an apology to the Commissioners.
Noyes’ letter informed Adkinson that Alford would only meet with the commissioners after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement completes its review of the report’s findings, which in the case of commissioners Danny Glidewell and Trey Nick , have documented more than 100 violations of the existing policy.
“Mr. Alford looks forward to speaking with the commissioners once FDLE completes its review and to working cooperatively with the commissioners to resolve any identified issues,” his letter read.
“I would like to clarify one matter in the hope that this may clear up your confusion and that of the commissioners,” Noyes’ letter said. “It appears that you are mistakenly assuming that the April 5, 2022 report was an audit.”
“A review of potential misappropriation of assets”
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The letter explained that the filed report constituted “a review of a possible misappropriation of assets that was based on an anonymous report to the Clerk’s Fraud, Waste and Abuse hotline.”
Adkinson discussed the clerk’s letter at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting. The sarcasm in his voice made it clear that the information Noyes had presented had not changed his thinking on the substance of the report.
“Apparently myself and you commissioners, in the opinion of the clerk, are confused and operating under the mistaken assumption that this was an audit,” Adkinson said. “I have to admit I assumed it was an audit because the word audit appears 30 times in the document. It was done by the director of internal audit.”
Adkinson again repeated “what we pointed out in the letter to the clerk is that they did not adhere to strict auditing practices”.
The cover page of the report itself, however, did not use the word audit, as board chairman Mike Barker alleged at Tuesday’s meeting, except to identify the department conducting the investigation. He said the “review” completed in April and made public two months later “was conducted in accordance with legal techniques for examining fraud”.
Barker did not return a phone call seeking clarification on his statement.
Fraud examination techniques, the cover letter states, include, but are not limited to, review of books and records, voluntary interviews with appropriate personnel, and other evidence-gathering procedures. necessary in the circumstances.
In his letter to the court clerk, Adkinson states that “it is my position” the review carried out should have been carried out using “Yellowbook” standards for government auditing.
A web link he provided connects to a Yellowbook site that provides a guide to performing “financial audits, attestation engagements, and reviews of financial statements.”
“As well as the County Board of Commissioners, we remain deeply troubled that no opportunity for management responses was provided before the audit was completed and made public. said Adkinson in his letter to Alford.
However, there is also a guide to help legal entities investigate fraud. The Fraud Examinations Manual, 2022 Edition, helps examiners plan and conduct their investigations.
The guidelines call on fraud investigators to “restrict access to certain information on a need-to-know basis.”
“Fraud investigations should be structured to maintain confidentiality,” the manual advises, warning investigators to “avoid alerting the fraudster.”
Nothing in the 387-page Fraud Examiners Manual appears to speak of those under investigation during or after the investigation is complete.
Adkinson’s lengthy letter to the Clerk was reproduced and sent to Alford on behalf of Commissioners Glidewell, Barker and Tony Anderson. Each letter sent, Adkinson said at the meeting, included attached documents designed “in the aggregate to support this board’s assertion that there was no misappropriation of funds or violation of policy. , generally”.
Adkinson, Barker and Glidewell all commented at the meeting that had the Clerk’s Office checked its own system of records, investigators would have discovered much of the documentation flagged as missing in the internal auditor’s report.
But the clerk’s report not only shocked the commissioners for failing to record expenses correctly. The internal auditor also found violations of the policy with respect to commissioners’ expenses.
Report: “No document has been provided to substantiate the necessity of the charge”
The fraud review documented unauthorized charges ranging from minor items like Commissioner Boots McCormick’s $7.71 purchase at Bootlegger’s Bar and Liquor, to large purchases, like Nick paying $7,085 for he and his assistant, Scott Brannon, to attend the 2020 National Association of Counties Conference.
Nick’s expenses for the National Counties Association Conference trip “were inconsistent with other commissioners who attended,” the internal auditor’s report said. “A commissioner’s rooms for himself and his help were much more than the other attendees.”
Two rooms reserved by Nick rented for $683 per night each. The listeners presented a chart with a comparison showing another commissioner booking $299 each per night. Nick also paid $811 for the same trip for a plane ride originally booked at $299.
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“Changes were made to the original flight reservations resulting in an additional charge of $850. A preferred seat charge of $174.80 was also incurred,” the listeners reported. “Substantiation of charges exceeding those of other travelers was not provided, and no travel voucher was submitted.”
The county’s travel policy states that a traveling official will find the most economical accommodations available. It also says the traveler will be responsible for covering the cost of “preferred seating” options and that the county will only reimburse the coach-level flight fare.
Neither Nick nor McCormick have yet submitted documentation rebutting the internal auditor’s findings to the Clerk’s Office.
Glidewell, Anderson, McCormick and Nick were all identified in the internal auditor’s report as having requested reimbursement for exercising preferred seat options during the audited period.
Auditors also found that Nick was reimbursed $182 for expenses incurred in December 2019 at the Hilton Sandestin in Miramar Beach. The policy states that travel within the county will not be paid for with taxpayer dollars unless justification for the expense is provided. Nick lives in Freeport.
“No documents were provided to substantiate the necessity of the charge,” the auditors’ report said.
The Clerk’s Office launched its investigation into possible embezzlement in January, the report said, when an unidentified source reported that Commissioners McCormick and Glidewell were abusing their privileges as elected officials by using government vehicles. county for personal use and obtaining payment for mileage for their personal vehicles.
The reporter also accused McCormick and Glidewell of driving their county vehicles to the liquor store and using their county-issued credit card to purchase liquor.
Auditors did not uncover any findings specific to the original allegations, although at a commission meeting McCormick admitted to using his county purchase card to buy beers with a meal.
Auditors also identified two charges for attending the Florida Counties Association’s 2019 legislative conference, attributed to Nick, in which the flight times did not match the conference dates.
They identified two counts of attending the Florida Counties Association’s 2020 legislative conference where Glidewell provided stay dates that did not match the dates the conference was held.
Investigators identified two Glidewell charges for airline baggage that were incurred by someone who was not a county employee.
A transaction for a hotel room was identified in which an itemized receipt was not submitted, according to the report. A note provided by Glidewell in support of the charge indicates that the room was canceled and the charge would be refunded.
“As of March 2, 2022, no refunds have been received,” the auditors said.
Glidewell said at Tuesday’s meeting that he had turned “290 pages of stuff.”
“Everything they (the clerk’s office) said was missing was in their own system,” he said.