A corrective action plan stemming from Effingham County’s audit will be put into place, but commissioners also were advised that their policies may need more review.
By a 3-1 vote, the commissioners approved the plan that stemmed from the audit’s findings and the more than three dozen deficiencies it included. Steve Mason, who voted against adopting the corrective action plan, continued to take issue with the audit.
In particular, Mason raised his concerns with the audit’s findings on what was deemed a conflict of interest because the county administrator and county clerk were married to each other.
David Crawley, the county administrator, and Patrice Crawley, the county clerk, each resigned their positions in advance of the audit being finalized. The two were married while they were working for the county, but their spousal relationship had not been addressed by previous audits.
“One didn’t work for the other,” Mason said. “It was clear one did not work for the other. It shouldn’t be an audit finding.”
Commissioner Forrest Floyd retorted that the relationship did create a conflict.
“There was a conflict of interest, in my opinion,” he said, “and that’s the bottom line, and we need to address it.”
Mason added that Donald Caines, whose firm conducted the audit, told him the reason the relationship issue wasn’t included in audits before is because previous commissioners approved of it.
“And he didn’t put it on the audit. That means his audit was flawed, at least the last two I looked at,” Mason said. “Now it’s something that’s on the official audit, not just something the board needs to make some changes and move one somewhere rather than us just fire two people.”
“That isn’t what we do,” Floyd replied.
“Sure it is,” Mason answered back.
“That’s your opinion,” countered Floyd.
Commissioner Vera Jones also said there were instances when the clerk had to answer to the administrator, specifically in preparing agendas for commissioners’ meetings.
County attorney Eric Gotwalt said the county’s personnel guidelines don’t completely address the potential relationships between employees.
“It left a gray area,” he said. “I don’t believe our current policy precludes a relationship between people in different departments who work in the same building.
“It talks about a relationship in a direct supervisory position with the authority to hire and fire.”
The audit also called into question what are known as related-party transactions, but the county’s policies also don’t make it clear what those impermissible relationships are, Gotwalt said.
“It didn’t address it specifically, and the board needs to revisit it,” he added. “We don’t have a set policy on what an interest is and what a related party is. To simply say that a commissioner shall not have an interest is too vague. My recommendation is to have a uniform, consistent set, which we had in the ethics ordinance.”
Said county finance director Joanna Wright: “It is very vague. Having it written down in our own policies in our purchasing policies certainly will help.”
The final corrective action plan was due to the state Friday and it requires that several policies are amended within 60 days. Also, all revisions should be completed and approved within 120 days of the corrective action plan submittal.
The commissioners’ rules of procedures already have been modified, and the financial, purchasing, grant and human resources policies need to be revised. A new cash management policy also needs to be created and adopted by commissioners, according to the corrective action plan’s requirements.
Chairman Wendall Kessler asked if there was any reason the county staff couldn’t follow the corrective action plan to address the audit’s findings.
“We’ve already had new stuff come up,” he said.
Temporary county administrator Toss Allen said the corrective action plan will put in place policies to address the audit’s findings.
Mason reiterated his displeasure with the audit and that it didn’t include Crawley’s submissions to the management responses.
“I don’t like this,” he said. “I still don’t like the way the audit was done.”