TRAC advisory board chairman: Joint audit team could save funds

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJune 4, 2014 

Franklin County commissioners rejected pleas for more internal reviews of the TRAC center, instead opting to seek bids for an independent audit of the facility, which is owned by the county and Pasco.

Dave Beach, chairman of a TRAC advisory board made up of city and county appointees, asked commissioners in a memo to consider having county Auditor Matt Beaton and Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield appoint a "joint audit team," with an accountant from each of their staffs.

Beach said the move could save money over hiring an outside auditor.

"We believe the proposed study is overly broad and its cost could easily exceed $50,000," he said, referring to an estimate by the state auditor's office.

The state auditor recommended the independent audit in a March report that faulted TRAC management for poor oversight of cash machines at the Pasco facility. But Beaton said commissioners have already followed one of the state's recommendations by bringing in an outside vendor to operate TRAC's ATMs and should follow through with this one.

The county auditor's office would have to stop the process of installing new software designed to prevent internal theft if it were to take on such a large audit itself, Beaton said.

The county is spending $1.1 million for new accounting software after Dennis Huston, Franklin County Public Works' former accounting and administrative director, was arrested in early 2012 for embezzling more than $2.8 million in county money.

"My recommendations are to follow through with the (request for proposals) process, and at least determine what the costs will be," Beaton told commissioners.

Commission Chairman Bob Koch told Beaton that his office is already behind with the software installation, so 30 extra days to work with the city shouldn't hurt. Beaton said that staff turnover has led to the delay.

Commissioners Brad Peck and Rick Miller decided to move forward with getting proposals for the audit.

Peck referenced the Huston scandal in dismissing the call for a delay in seeking proposals.

"If you think back just a few years, we had some indications that there might be some problems in our public works department," Peck said. "We queried staff on it, we selected knowledgeable people. We sent them down there with instructions to review and detail the processes and report back whether or not there were any issues or problems.

"They did that, and the report was 'no problems.' Shortly thereafter we found the largest embezzlement in state history in that very same department, running the very same functions that they were instructed to review. It is a realism of human nature that you can be too close to a problem to see it."

But Crutchfield told commissioners that they would be better off seeing what parts of the audit could be done by city and county staff.

"My concern is spending a lot of money unnecessarily," he said. "We have in-house capabilities to answer a lot of these questions."

Pasco resident and former Spokane Mayor John Talbott, a regular critic of Crutchfield at city council meetings, said an internal review would be "continuing to allow the fox to guard the hen house."

"We subsidize a facility to compete with private enterprise," Talbott said. "That's not the role of government."

Beaton said accountants interested in conducting the audit will have 30 days to submit their bids before commissioners make their final decision.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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