• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Walton County Commission facing credit card controversy

ByChad J. Johnson

Jul 21, 2022

It sure looks like Walton County had a lot of trouble with their credit cards this year.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received an audit report alleging indiscriminate and possibly illegal spending of thousands of taxpayer dollars by the five members of the Walton County Commission. The controversial audit was conducted by an internal auditor working in Walton County Clerk’s office, Alex Alford, and was completed in April before being made public on June 30.

Credit card controversy:Walton County Commission responds to controversial audit citing credit card violations

Background:After Dede Hinote fired, audit shows all Walton commissioners violated credit card policy

FDLE survey:Audit citing credit card breaches by Walton commissioners sent to FDLE for investigation

The audit found more than $40,000 in expense variances among the five elected commissioners and also noted that board members had collectively failed to hand over an additional $40,000 in travel vouchers believed to be needed for reimbursement. Some of the purchase card transactions, according to the audit report, not only violated county policies but also, “in some cases,” state law.

All five commissioners, along with acting county attorney Clay Adkinson, harshly criticized the audit report and Alford’s office.

We don’t yet know if the accusations in the report are accurate, that’s up to the FDLE to weigh in, but there certainly appear to be issues with the way the audit was conducted.

Government accounting standards require that the audited entity or persons be given the opportunity to review discrepancies and provide receipts and other evidence to dispel misperceptions. However, this audit appears to have been carried out in secret, with the commissioners unaware of it until its findings were published.

Alford was invited to attend a special meeting of the Walton County Board of Commissioners on July 12 to discuss the audit, but did not show up. According to Adkinson, Alford had waived two one-on-one meetings with individual commissioners to discuss the audit, nor did he return messages from the Northwest Florida Daily News to discuss the findings.

Alford is an elected official who published this audit. He needs to break his silence on this and explain why the audit was carried out without any input from the Commissioners, otherwise it’s hard to argue with Commissioner Danny Glidewell when he said ‘This is a political stunt for all of us’ .

To be clear, just because there appear to be valid concerns about the way the audit was conducted doesn’t mean its findings should automatically be ignored. I think it’s a good thing that FDLE reviews the audit as an impartial third party to determine if any laws have been broken.

Although the audit focused on the commissioners, it appears that the problems with spending on a county-issued credit card go much deeper than them.

During the special committee meeting to address the audit, Adkinson said the county’s purchase card spending policy needed serious reform. The current policy appears to be more flexible than a county’s credit card policy probably should be, as it “allowed county administrative staff to prepare and submit travel reimbursement forms, make reservations hotel and use the county commission P cards they had on file,” Adkinson said.

Adkinson said he worked with county auditors and finance department staff to develop a number of changes that will update the purchasing policy for employees and elected officials.

“Most of the issues had been identified over the past few months and we had been working to fix the issues,” Adkinson said.

It will be interesting to see what changes will be made to the purchasing policy in the future.

Another Walton County credit card mishap earlier this year ultimately resulted in the layoff of longtime county employee Dede Hinote, who was an assistant county administrator when she was fired in March. Hinote, a county employee for nearly 30 years, came under fire from commissioners after it was determined she used her county-issued credit card to make personal purchases.

Commissioners initially suspended Hinote’s use of a county credit card, but fired her a few days later after learning she had not told the truth about the incident during discussions during from a previous meeting.

What’s going on in Walton County that its leaders can’t figure out its credit cards?

We don’t have all the answers on this yet, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s something weird going on in Walton County. Now that the FDLE has been introduced, perhaps we can all have a little more clarity on this situation.

Dusty Ricketts is the Content Coach for Northwest Florida Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]

Dusty Ricketts

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