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01/26/06 - Do You Think Elected Officials Who Are REPEATEDLY Cited By The Auditor of Public Accounts For FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT Should Get A PAY RAISE? Well, Senator Chichester and Delegate Callahan Both Apparently Do...
You would think that all of our Virginia legislators would want Virginia's Circuit Court Clerks to be held responsible when it comes to the handling of their offices' financial affairs, but, apparently, Sen. John H. Chichester, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Del. Vincent Callahan, Jr., Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, have other ideas about fiscal responsibility.
In the 2004 Budget (HB 30), language was added that would hold these Court Clerks' feet to the fire and make them accountable for bad audit "findings;" however, now these two legislators want this language below - especially #3 - changed and "softened" as it says on one Budget site which will protect those poor Clerks who feed at the public trough for EIGHT years at a time. Click here for 2004's HB 30 (scroll down to letter "I") and here is the wording you'll see that they want changed:
I.1. For audits of Clerks of the Circuit Court completed after July 1, 2004, the Auditor of Public Accounts shall report any internal control matter that could be reasonably expected to lead to the loss of revenues or assets, or otherwise compromise fiscal accountability. The Auditor of Public Accounts will also report on compliance with appropriate law and other financial matters of the Clerks' office.
2. For internal control matters that could be reasonably expected to lead to the loss of revenues or assets, or otherwise compromise fiscal accountability, the Clerk shall provide the Auditor of Public Accounts a written corrective action plan to any such audit findings within 10 business days of the audit exit conference, which will state what actions the clerk will take to remediate the finding. The Clerk’s response may also address the other matters in the report. During the next audit, the Auditor of Public Accounts shall determine and report if the Clerk has corrected the finding related to internal control matters that could be reasonably expected to lead to the loss of revenues or assets, or otherwise compromise fiscal accountability.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of Item 461, paragraph I.1.a., the Compensation Board shall not provide any salary increase to any Circuit Court Clerk identified by the Auditor of Public Accounts who has not taken corrective action for the matters reported above.
Chichester's amendment and Callahan's amendment - both of which became public just yesterday - will essentially (and unbelievably) protect the Clerks and insure they still get cushy raises even if the Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) cites them for financial mismanagement!
Say it ain't so Senator Chichester and Delegate Callahan! You really should be asking your fellow legislators to strengthen that budget language instead of removing/"softening" it!
After reading the "Letters to the Governor" (see below) and seeing who needs this protection that those amendments will give them, one realizes that some Clerks who have had repeated bad audits are in Chichester's and Callahan's Districts. Fairfax, Prince William, King George, Stafford, and Northumberland Clerks are their Clerks and they have all had audits with "findings" for financial mismanagement.
But did these two legislators act on their own regarding these amendments which will water down the requirements for fiscal accountability and give the Clerks a "pass" or did someone else set up Chichester and Callahan to take the fall for this? Was it the Clerks or the Clerks' Association lobbyist who also lobbies for the billboard industry? Or was it maybe another Senator who wanted to remain behind the scenes and not take credit for trying to keep the Clerks from being held accountable like Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis? She has pushed hard to have "remote access" to our records all over Virginia even knowing about all the Social Security numbers in those records like Final Divorce Decrees - but hers is sealed and won't see the light of day on her Clerk's website!
Also when you click onto that HB 30 link above, pay attention to those fantastic salaries those Clerks make. Their salaries are based on the populations of their county or city and their salaries are usually supplemented by "local" tax dollars agreed to by their City Council or Board of Supervisors. What a deal!
And then not be under any pressure to perform and manage money properly!
Does the rest of the VA General Assembly see what's going on here about these audits and these amendments? The former Governor sure knew about it since he got the following letters telling of the Clerks' shortcomings, but shouldn't Gov. Tim Kaine be made aware? He can veto the changes, and should, if these amendments are passed.
1) LETTER TO GOV. WARNER about audits in 2001- 2002 of Circuit Court Clerks' offices. (Read pages 2 and then 4 thru 9). 115 Clerks were audited (six not audited) and 32 Clerks had "findings."
2) LETTER TO GOV. WARNER about audits in 2003 - 2004 of Circuit Court Clerks' offices. (Read page 2 and pages 4 thru 10). 97 Clerks were audited and 30 offices had "findings." Take note of all the repeat offenders when it comes to "findings."
3) LETTER TO GOV. WARNER about audits in 2004 - 2005 (Read page 2 and then 4 thru 9). 102 Circuit Clerks were audited and 18 had "findings."
So why should those Circuit Court Clerks get a PAY RAISE if they have bad audits or one with "findings?" Reading those reports shows details of just how really lax some are. And these Clerks get an EIGHT year term and make more money than most in the private sector. Why do they have eight year terms anyway when no other elected official has an eight year term? Why doesn't the General Assembly change the wording in COV 24.2-217 to "FOUR" year terms?
If the wording in the Budget bill from 2004 stays put and is not amended/scrubbed out in the Finance Committee or in the House Appropriations Committee, then the Clerks will be held accountable in those audits every year... and if they don't deserve a pay raise then they shouldn't get one.
So the two amendments should be voted down by every legislator and the 2004 wording should remain as is or even be strengthened!
Also several of those Clerks with bad audit "findings" are ones who have already gone online with people's records in their "remote access" systems, but why doesn't the Virginia General Assembly understand that making those records available via "remote access" is a dangerous, reckless venture and has the potential to do great damage to minor children, the elderly, and others? SSNs, minor children's names, DOBs, mother's maiden names, signatures, and financial account numbers are all in those records - records like Final Divorce Decrees, Deeds of Trust (mortgage papers), Wills, UCCs (financing statements), Judgments, Federal and State tax liens, overdue student loan liens, Powers of Attorney, guardianship/conservator papers, etc and they will be available on ANYONE's home computer... and are right now in 14 localities in Virginia. ANYONE can sign up because that's the law.
The following Circuit Court Clerks have "remote access" to the citizens' personal (albeit public) records so here are SOME of the Auditor's reports that need reading by every member of the House and Senate before changing that 2004 wording and voting to accept the proposed Chichester and Callahan amendments which will give those Clerks a "pass" when in reality they need to be audited more often:
ARLINGTON 2001 audit and here's 2002 , the 2003 , the 2004 (see pages 3 & 4) audit. (This is also the Clerk's office that destroyed evidence in a case where Governor Warner just let the man off death row and gave him life with no parole - all because the evidence was destroyed by the Clerk. These audits wouldn't cover something like that though since they only deal with fiscal matters.) David Bell should be voted out of office just for that alone...
NORFOLK 2001-2002 audit
VIRGINIA BEACH 2003 (see page 4 - What are "unspecified" receipts?)
WARREN 2001-2002 audit (see page 1- previous clerk who retired)
WISE (2000 audit of General Receiver - see page 5 about errors made)
CARROLL - No findings, but they have "remote access" for the records containing SSNs, etc....
CITY of DANVILLE & CITY of MARTINSVILLE - No findings for either, but they both have "remote access" for the records which contain much personal info and SSNs.
Now for a few Clerks who have not gone online yet with the records, but who got audit reports with "findings."
AND there are others... Click here to see ALL of the reports done by the APA on the Clerks' offices. ALL CLERKS FOR COUNTIES COME UP FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2007. CITY CLERKS WERE JUST ELECTED FOR EIGHT YEAR TERMS IN 2003.
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