published Monday, April 14th, 2014

Hamilton County Auditor Bill McGriff finds few issues with spending

Hamilton County Auditor Bill McGriff says the county constitutional officers are basically doing a good job managing the public's money.

An audit of nine county elected offices released this week shows only three had criticism from the auditor -- and those were relatively minor, he said.

"With the few number of findings we had, and the audit work that was done, it appears that they are doing a good job. I don't know how to say it any other way," McGriff said.

But there were a few exceptions.

Clerk and Master Lee Akers again earned a rebuke for giving his employees $7,768 in longevity pay and bonuses, which exceeded his salary agreement with Mayor Jim Coppinger. Akers has been singled out in audits for years over excess longevity pay.

The audit, completed by Decosimo Certified Public Accountants, said bonuses and longevity pay count as salary. Akers has the right to give longevity pay, but it needs to be included in his agreement with Coppinger.

But Akers said as a constitutional officer, he has the right to pay his employees extra from fees he collects. He said general government employees get longevity pay, so his should, too.

"I pay it, and the county has paid it to their general county people for years. The state has paid it to their employees for years. I think I have the right to pay it to my people and the county disagrees. I think it's only fair if everyone is getting paid for longevity," Akers said.

Akers also was marked for not collecting the full amount of fees he could for delinquent property tax cases. That issue was a computer program error that has been fixed, according to the audit.

The audit also had findings in Sheriff Jim Hammond's office.

The sheriff's office had been overcharged by food vendors for the jail and not paid back by the state for filing handgun permits. The jail had paid more than the low bid on a few food items from certain vendors, and the office hadn't kept close enough tabs on $15 reimbursements it gets from the state for processing the gun permits.

In response, Hammond said he would pull a financial assistant to help the food service supervisor keep better tabs on food. And new procedures were in place to ensure the county was getting paid for the permits.

Hammond said Friday the issues were minor and easily resolved.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell's office also had a finding about deposit and account activity not being correctly reported after being entered through three different software systems.

Tidwell concurred with the audit and said the office has started double-checking the balances between her office and the county accounting department.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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