The installation of new software Franklin County officials say will help prevent fraud from happening again began this week.
In the four months since a former county manager was arrested on suspicion of embezzling about $2.8 million from the county, county officials have begun implementing a tighter system of checks and balances.
Franklin County Commission Chairman Brad Peck said the alleged fraud by former county employee Dennis M. Huston has emphasized the importance of remaining vigilant.
Countywide, employees and officials understand the purpose of having checks and balances, Peck said.
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"It's the old notion of 'trust but verify,' " he said.
It's something that isn't isolated to Franklin County. Other local governments in Benton and Franklin counties have taken a look at their policies.
Peck said he has heard of similar efforts statewide.
He said commissioners already have approved buying the new accounting software and selling bonds to pay for the $1.1 million project.
Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton said the new accounting system should be in use as soon as January.
While installing the software is fairly quick, Peck said, it takes time to train employees and integrate systems.
"It is a major rework of the entire accounting software system for the whole county," he said.
SunGard, the software company, will be installing the software through next week, Beaton said. Wednesday, a meeting is scheduled with SunGard staff and county employees to kick off the transition.
County commissioners also approved moving Public Works accounting employees into the county auditor's office.
That transition has begun, Beaton said. For example, the auditor's office is now doing Public Works payroll.
But the employees themselves have not yet been moved, he said. His office is looking at how the move will work.
Public Works employees have undertaken additional work to get the Public Works department in shape, Peck said.
"They've covered a lot of ground in a short time," he said. "It's clear that the staff was significantly impacted and they are as anxious as anyone to get things back on a proper track to resolve the problems that have come up."
Employees have been recreating financial documents Huston had prepared, such as the shop rates that county departments pay to Public Works when work is done on a county vehicle, Peck said.
The inventory system also has been changed throughout the county, Peck said.
"We actually have a proper inventory system now," he said.
The new system requires more detailed descriptions of equipment, and in some cases, photos of the items, he said. Peck said while the county is building the inventory and collecting the data now, the information will be more useable with the new software.
Franklin County is continuing to borrow Benton County's engineer, Malcolm Bowie, to meet the state requirement of having a licensed engineer for its Public Works department.
The county fired former Public Works director and county Engineer Tim Fife on March 26, saying that his mismanagement of the department allowed the embezzlement of county funds to go on for longer than it should have.
While the contract with Benton County expired in April, Peck said the contract was extending to the end of July.
The county paid Benton County $5,701 for Bowie's help in February, according to county documents. Payment for his help since then has not yet been made.
Peck said they have approved hiring a Public Works director who will be a manager, and having the new deputy director be the professional engineer. That is a system that Benton County and others use, he said.
Assistant Public Works Director Guy Walters plans to retire this summer but is leading the department in the interim as the county looks for a replacement.
The position descriptions are being drafted, and once they are approved, the openings will be announced and applications solicited, Peck said.
The county also has appealed Fife's application for unemployment, Peck said.
"It is quite clear that he was responsible as the director of that department for ensuring the accuracy of those accounting procedures and documents," Peck said.
Peck said a push by county officials for increased accountability led to uncovering the alleged fraud.
"We are going to keep pressing," he said.