PASCO -- Franklin County commissioners are undecided about how to restructure the public works department in the wake of an alleged embezzlement scandal that resulted in the firing of two top managers.
Commissioners agreed Wednesday that the public works department manager/county engineer job will be split between two people, but aren't sure about moving the public works accounting employees into the auditor's office.
Auditor Matt Beaton told commissioners that if he were to have ultimate responsibility to oversee the accounting work of the public works project technicians, he should have those employees physically working in his office.
Currently, the three people who do the accounting on public works projects are two miles away from the courthouse at the public works office.
"You can't manage something you don't control," Beaton said.
But Commissioner Bob Koch didn't see the need.
"The new software we are getting will have everyone tied together," he said.
Franklin County recently decided to buy $1.1 million in new accounting software to provide greater oversight and security on accounting functions.
Koch said it should be easy for Beaton's staff to have remote oversight of project technicians without having everyone in the same office.
Beaton presented a suggested organizational chart that had three project technicians from public works reporting to his auditing team.
"It would be a centralized audit function," Beaton said, noting that a centralized operation would be more efficient and ensure a higher level of accountability.
Public works staff, however, would prefer to keep the project technicians, who track expenses to make sure they are properly documented, close enough to be readily accessible on a daily basis.
"Having these people working out of our office is vital," said Matt Mahoney, a public works design engineer.
Commission Chairman Brad Peck said if it comes down to choosing between accessibility convenience versus efficiency and accountability: "I'll choose efficiency and accountability every time."
Commissioner Rick Miller agreed.
But Koch's reluctance prompted Peck to delay a decision until next week.
The commissioners did agree, however, to recruit a public works manager and a deputy manager/professional engineer to replace the public works director, who was fired after the discovery of a suspected embezzlement of almost $3 million by an employee in his department.
Tim Fife lost his job for poor management of the department, and Dennis Huston, the department's accounting and administrative director, is suspected of stealing county funds for more than a decade.
Huston, who was fired in February, is not charged with a crime but is being sued by the commission. State officials still are investigating the criminal case.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org