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Another audit finds shortcomings in Johnson County offices
By FINN BULLERS - The Kansas City Star Date: 05/18/01 22:15
Charges of lax fiscal controls once again have surfaced in Johnson County, this time aimed at the District Court office.
No evidence of fraud or theft was found in the latest internal audit report. But financial practices in the court office, the report said, failed to provide adequate controls over month-end cash balances.
This is the third time in two months that Martin Kolkin, county auditor, has found county fund balances that do not match balances reported by the county's bank, UMB Bank.
Since March, audits have outlined problems with the county's self-insured health-care fund and in the county treasurer's office.
In the most recent report, court officials blamed an antiquated computer system that is not Y2K-compliant and an overworked, understaffed four-member court accounting office for financial tracking problems.
Nonetheless court officials agreed to comply with the auditor's recommendations.
In this audit, the analogy of the unbalanced checkbook is once again a good one, Kolkin said in an interview. The auditor's examination from December 2000 to March 2001 found weak managerial control and oversight.
Also, county auditors found court financial procedures that did not comply with state statutes, and in at least one instance, there was no written procedure for handling checks.
"There's probably a natural reaction out there (from the public) that `You commissioners are supposed to be minding the store; how have you let all this happen?' " County Commissioner Gary Anderson said Friday.
"That's understandable. We need to have proper processes and procedures in place to make sure we are properly minding the store."
The county's external auditor -- Cochran, Head & Co. of Kansas City, Kan. -- first reported problems in the district court office two years ago. No steps were taken to resolve those concerns.
The outside auditors found that in 1999 court employees had recorded cash balances on the county's financial statements using the bank statement balance rather than the court's own records.
Those audits also showed the court did not maintain an accurate listing of outstanding checks of some $105,000.
Part of the reason was the court's old computers -- one system was not even supported by the county's information technology department. To extract monthly information from that system took a lot of time and energy, and often made reconciling bank statements a last priority.
Ultimately the county's computer technicians were able to produce a list of outstanding checks from the old computers for the period ending Dec. 31, and they have since committed to making the old computers work with newer machines by June. 1.
Also identified were a large number of stale checks written by the county to banks, holding companies, local governments, county departments and federal agencies -- entities that traditionally clear checks quickly, the auditor said.
The report said that indicates the county's outstanding check list is inaccurate. Some checks go as far back as 1995 and need to cleared from the court's accounting system.
In a written response, Chief Judge Patrick McAnany of the 10th Judicial District agreed that the court had failed to balance its checkbook and said corrective measures were being put in place.
Monthly deadlines for reconciling bank statements have been set, but as of Tuesday, the March bank statements from the District Court still had not been reconciled, Kolkin wrote.
McAnany blamed a high employee-turnover rate in 1998 and today for delays in implementing accounting controls. The annual employee turnover rate in the court office is approximately 33 percent, county records show.
McAnany could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Although the court is a function of county government, oversight is the responsibility of the state. A copy of Kolkin's audit has been sent to the Office of Judicial Administration.
To reach Finn Bullers, Johnson County government reporter, call (816) 234-7705 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), May 19, 2001
I noticed the bolded type. Now that Y2K is past, the local authorities can safely admit that, yes, they did have problems? But it's all behind us, now?
-- Margaret (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 19, 2001.