Dear Mr. Editor:
I am responding to your article entitled “Commissioners' email approvals of spending may conflict with state open meetings law”, dated Sunday, August 25, 2013. Although the article asserted certain emails exist to support possible law violation, respectfully, I choose to respond to what I perceive as the germane issue, albeit perhaps unintended, raised by your investigation, i.e. one of financial control versus legal compliance.
Based upon your coverage and publication of articles earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners changed its roughly 30 year history of processing individual commissioner expenditures. Today, that approval process is in compliance with the Open Meetings Act as well as local legislation that requires commissioner expenditures to be reviewed and approved by the “full” BOC in an open meeting – an added control.
That brings me to your article, where I am on record of being a strong advocate for the improvement of county governance through transparent leadership and effective controls. In the first month of my first term in 2009, the county was in the process of migrating and training on a new accounting and reporting system. This transition was one of the times - using technology to automate manual, routine processes to eliminate waste, speed decisions and improve efficiencies. One of the core features was the ability to monitor budgets on a monthly basis once set and approved during an annual open hearing process. As department heads, inclusive of constitutional officers, began to use their budgets to deliver services to the public, the manual “controls” that were transferred to the new system were in place to align the release of funds based upon signing authority. Documentation has to exist through contracts, purchase orders, invoices all the way up to meeting minutes and/or resolutions from the BOC itself.
From my perspective as a part-time commissioner, having the ability to review and sign off on high dollar or liability as well as mission critical or non-routine expenditures is vital as to do so via an annual audit is ripe for misuse or abuse as it’s after the fact. The district commissioners serve as a local congress or general assembly (check and balance) to the full time Chairman and County Administrator who run the daily operations of the local government. Our system and processes are designed to notify district commissioners if the highest level of sign off is required on fund release for expenditures that should have been discussed in an open meeting, recognizing the sign offs can not be done remotely for security reasons.
In closing, I submit the BOC is not delusional about opportunities to improve. Pointedly, what is fundamentally missing in Douglas County is a true, audit function, independent of legal and financial departments with a purpose to identify procedural, financial, organizational and systemic risks and make recommendations. As a course of action, I will move to add to an upcoming work session and call upon the Chairman to consider the immediate creation of a new Audit Committee (separating it from the current Finance Committee to eliminate conflicts); I will ask my fellow Commissioners to support the acceleration to create a full time director level Internal Auditor/Compliance position that reports into the new Audit Committee; and I intend to request the County Administrator to request our external Auditor to write an accounting opinion on the legal approval of an expenditure versus the financial control of or sign off on fund release based on GA law. This is not solely about interpreting the law to fit our convenience but to ensure we extend control of public funds inside the law.
In the end, I truly get how we as elected officials are held to a higher standard because we are expected to self-govern in a way that is conduct becoming of the public’s trust for to hold homeowners and business owners as well as visitors and passerbys to the letter of the law but work outside of the laws that apply to our oath is – hypocrisy at best - an insult to our founding fathers.
Kelly Robinson County Commissioner,
Douglas County Board of Commissioners