State auditors fault King County for lack of oversight; county addresses issues

June 21, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

UPDATED — 11:55 a.m. June 21, 2010

Auditors raised concerns about the way King County government conducts business in a state report released June 14.

Though auditors said the county complied with state laws and regulations — as well as county rules — in most cases, the team identified several areas of concern with the King County Sheriff’s Office, King County Elections and executive agencies.

“Our audit found county officials should continue to improve oversight and safeguards over cash receipts, expenditures and assets,” auditors wrote. “In many instances, monitoring was insufficient to ensure policies are complete, and that staff is trained on and follows them.”

The state team said the county faces less ability to control expenses, a greater risk of loss and a heightened risk for running afoul of laws, regulations and contractual requirements due to a lack of oversight.

The county disputed some of the audit findings, and said steps had been taken to address other issues pointed out by auditors.

“In general, we respect the work of the state auditor, but many of his findings simply do not account for controls we already have in place,” county spokesman Frank Abe said. “Some of his findings also create unneeded costs of bureaucracy without adding any value for taxpayers.”

Auditors said the sheriff’s office lacks adequate controls to monitor and record evidence, including narcotics, and for collected and forfeited property.

“The findings also state that there was no evidence of package tampering to suggest a theft or tampering of the substances,” stated a written response from the county to the auditors. “This audit brought that condition to the forefront and prompted the sheriff’s office to make policy changes.”

The audit also said the law enforcement agency does not have adequate internal control over citations. Auditors examined 27 citation booklet receipt covers, and noted they had been signed by the receiving officer and not by the supervisor, as policy requires.

In the written response, the county pledged to make changes to follow the policy.

King County Elections lacks internal control of cash receipting, the audit showed. But, as the county wrote in its response, no funds examined in the audit had been deposited with evidence of misappropriation or misuse.

The response described several conditions in the audit as inaccurate or the result of the emergency relocation of the elections office from Renton to Tukwila due to flooding concerns. Other issues had been remedied, the response said.

In the executive agencies, auditors said county waivers for bid requirements did not comply with county policy. The county said the instances described in the audit did not represent the broader picture.

“We flatly disagree,” Abe said. “This involves only three of more than 100 bid waivers last year, and in each of those three cases the county fully complied with its own policies, contrary to the claims of the auditor.”

The county lacks adequate controls to keep internal transactions appropriate, timely and accounted for, the audit showed. In response, the county called on state Auditor Brian Sonntag to update state requirements.

“King County’s interfund transfers are consistent with modern banking practices that reduce needless bureaucracy and save taxpayers money,” Abe said. “In fact, we recommend the state auditor update his own accounting manual to be more in line with these modern banking practices.”

The audit also said officials do not have adequate controls to ensure the validity of spouses, domestic partners and dependents added to employees’ insurance benefit plans.

“We’re not going to impose a documentation standard on one group of employees and not on others,” Abe said. “That’s fundamentally unfair. And there is no state registration process for all categories of domestic partners.”

The county asserted the existing system has adequate safeguards in place.

“We already require employees to swear, under the threat of discipline or termination, to the eligibility of their spouses, domestic partners, and other dependents,” Abe said. “Making employees with domestic partners supply additional proof creates more needless bureaucracy that we feel adds no value for taxpayers.”

The county vehicle and vessel service also did not adequately monitor employees who transfer titles, the audit showed. The county fired the employee involved in the problem and took steps to uncover underreporting.

“Overall, the report is positive and states that in most areas, the county complied with state laws and regulations and our own policies and procedures,” Abe said. “The audit surveyed 18 areas within county government across four independently elected officials and issued seven findings.”

The accountability audit examined records from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009, when former County Executive Ron Sims and acting Executive Kurt Triplett led county government. The current executive, Dow Constantine, took office in November.

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