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Audit reveals questionable Placer County spending

Unauthorized $2,100 laptop, lavish tip, free meals, mileage abuse cited in review
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s development department skirted county and department policies in failing to log receipts for purchases, skipping required approvals for orders of supplies and made questionable purchases, according to a new internal audit. The audit, which was presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, examined expenditures within the Community Development Resources Agency. The extensive examination of spending practices with the agency produced an long list of violations but made no finding or accusation of fraud. Instead, the report by county Auditor-Controller Kathy Martinis’ office detailed instances of credit-card approval problems, excessive tipping, unexplained meal receipts, and inappropriate purchases of a computer. The audit took a small sample of transactions and then examined whether they conformed to established policies. Some of the problem areas discovered in the audit included: -Purchase of an Apple laptop for $2,090 for home use that hadn’t been approved by the county’s centralized information technology division. Additionally, it hadn’t been listed in the agency’s inventory. The auditor is asking that the county be reimbursed the full price, plus tax, of $2,251. -“Numerous” meals being purchased for bi-weekly meetings of the seven-member county Planning Commission. The audit found reimbursements for the meals over four months totaled $492. The agency’s response is that the commission is provided with lunch if meetings, which have no established break times, go beyond 1 p.m. -Meals and refreshments for employee staff meetings totaling $119. The county doesn’t allow “food or drink for staff performing their standard functions at their standard work sites,” the audit report stated. -Three instances in the sample of 34 transactions where an employee who had a county vehicle assigned to him used his personal vehicle for county business and then submitted a mileage reimbursement claim. The total amount was for $252. The auditor’s office is recommending a policy of sharing any pooled vehicles to avoid unnecessary mileage reimbursements. The agency now has a policy requiring that employees check to see if a pool vehicle is available before they use a personal auto on county business. -An unidentified department head’s credit card statement being approved by a subordinate. The process has changed and the CEO is now approving the statement. -A sample of 17 tuition reimbursement requests found 11 instances in which there was no evidence of attendance or completion of the course or training. Two of the courses were taken for academic credit at a college and total expenditure was $1,050. -A 42 percent tip on a lunch bill. The agency’s response was that the tip was a mistake and on top of a group-rate gratuity already applied to the restaurant bill. The 23-page report was outlined at Tuesday’s supervisor meeting by the Allison Carlos of the County CEO’s office. It’s the first of a planned series of internal audits that will delve into spending at other county departments. Carlos said the agency has taken steps to rectify problems and plans to have better systems in place by the end of the year. A majority of the findings by the audit fall under the category of “insufficient internal controls, Carlos said. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said that none of the problems outlined in the audit appeared to be a major infringement of rules. “Nothing seemed outrageous,” Montgomery said. “I’m seeing some things that come up in bureaucracies either large and small and CEDRA (the development agency) is taking steps to address them.” Dan Sokol, vice-president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, said Wednesday that people should be outraged by the malfeasance or arrogance the audit underlines. “It’s not the individual items,” Sokol said. “It’s the total mindset. Increasingly, the government employee mindset is they’re not like us.” Supervisor Jim Holmes described the audit as a good template for future ones with other departments. Supervisor Robert Weygandt said he looks forward to seeing implementation of new procedures to shore up some of the problems. Martinis said the audit was done at the request of the CEO’s office. Unlike an external audit, which looks at larger dollar amounts, this one looked more closely at policies and procedures. Optimally, her office could return in six months and do a follow-up audit to determine whether changes promised by the agency have been implemented and are working well, Martinis said. “This is the first venture into a full-fledged departmental audit since I’ve been here and it’s been very worthwhile,” Martinis said. The Community Development Resources Agency was formed five years ago because of the need during a heated construction cycle for streamlining development requests. Carlos reminded supervisors that the agency had a total budget over the past five years of about $100 million and had been helmed by three different directors.