Commissioners continue to dispute “audit” report findings

DISCUSSION RECENTLY RETURNED to the April 5 report issued by the Walton County Clerk of Courts containing findings of violations by members of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) involving purchasing card use and travel-related expenses, with the commissioners continuing to dispute those findings.

By DOTTY NIST

Approximately 687 pages of documentation, including several letters, have been assembled and made publicly available, aimed at countering the findings of the Walton County Clerk of Courts Internal Audit Department 40-page April 5 report that had been prompted by an anonymous statement to the clerk’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Hotline.

The documentation and letters, the latter all dated Aug. 10 and addressed to Walton County Clerk of Courts Alex Alford, were included as part of the agenda for the Aug. 23 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the South Walton Annex, and there was related discussion at the meeting.

The clerk’s office report had come to light in early July shortly after being made available to the public for the first time. Among other findings, the report had concluded that Walton County commissioners had violated county policy and state law in connection with travel-related spending and with their use of county purchasing cards, also known as p-cards or Walton County credit cards.

A copy of the report had been furnished to the Office of State Attorney, First Judicial Circuit of Florida, and that office had sent a copy to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for investigation soon after obtaining an official copy in mid-July.

Bringing up the matter at the Aug. 23 BCC meeting, Mike Barker, board chairman, said he had considered findings in the report to be “allegations” and had provided information to the clerk disputing those along with a request that the report be revised in response. “And we have not received anything back on that yet,” Barker said. He called this lack of response “ethically unprofessional.”

Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, discussed the information provided on the agenda, which had been emailed to the clerk—documentation countering the report’s findings on three commissioners. He contended that the information “substantially if not wholly refutes the allegations issued by the clerk.”

The three commissioners were Barker, District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell, and District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson.

Adkinson indicated that work was underway to produce similar information packets for the other two commissioners (District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick and District 4 Commissioner Trey Nick). Once that was accomplished, he said, the information would be “similarly” sent to the clerk and made available to the public.

Adkinson also discussed an Aug. 22 letter to him as acting county attorney from Sidney Noyes, general counsel and director of court services for the Walton County Clerk of Courts. In the letter, Noyes had made a clarification that she said was hopeful would dispel Adkinson’s and the commissioners’ “confusion.”

She had stated that the April 5 report was “not an audit, but an examination of potential asset misappropriation which was predicated upon an anonymous report to the Clerk’s fraud, waste, and abuse hotline.”

This was significant partly because since soon after the BCC received a copy of the report, one of the BCC’s charges against the report had been that proper audit procedures had not been followed in producing the document. This position had been repeated and outlined in Adkinson’s letters to Alford accompanying the supporting documentation for Barker, Glidewell and Anderson, together with criticism that there had been no opportunity for review of the report by the BCC before it was made publicly available.

On the issue of whether the clerk’s report was an audit, Adkinson commented, “I admit I assumed it was an audit, considering the word audit appears in the document over 30 times. It was conducted by the director of internal audit, and what we pointed out in our letter to the clerk is that they’ve not adhered to strict audit practice.”

He asserted that in his opinion the clerk had “owed better to both the board as well as the citizens of Walton County,” in spite of that office’s statement that the report was not an audit.

Adkinson maintained that the records attached to the agenda items related to the report demonstrated and supported “by and large” the BCC’s contention that there had been no misappropriation of funds or violations of policy. He added that, “by and large,” the records supporting the BCC’s position “were already in the clerk’s system.”

“So perhaps had the clerk done an actual audit,” Adkinson continued, “they would have found that, but the clerk now is relying on the fact that they didn’t audit us, so the fact they didn’t comply with appropriate audit standards is irrelevant.”

However, he said he disagreed, explaining that he thought that if the word “audit” was put in a document multiple times and that if a document was going to be released to the press and the public “under the guise of being an audit,” that audit standards should be adhered to .

Adkinson also told the commissioners, as indicated by Noyes’s letter, that Alford did not want to meet with the BCC at this time.

Noyes’s letter had stated that Alford would be willing to meet with Adkinson and the commissioners to discuss the matter after FDLE completes its review of the report. “Until that time, it would be inappropriate for Mr. Alford to comment on the April 5, 2022 Report,” according to the letter.

The letter had concluded, “Mr. Alford looks forward to speaking with the Commissioners once FDLE completes its review and working cooperatively with the Commissioners to address any issues identified in the April 5, 2022 Report.” There has been no comment on the matter from the clerk’s office other than Noyes’s letter.

Adkinson stated that, in the meantime, “we will continue to wait for the clerk to do what we think is a requirement,” amending the report in response to the information that he and the BCC had provided.

Barker was in agreement, and Glidewell said he had been hoping that Alford would attend the BCC meeting “to apologize and retract…”

Among other critical remarks, Glidewell stated that he had “no confidence in the clerk,” and suggested that county legal staff look at ways to “address their professional licenses and certificates,” speaking of the clerk and his staff.

“I’ll be glad to file the paperwork because they could have got out of this and they chose not to,” Glidewell said.

There were no comments on the matter by Anderson, McCormick, or Nick.

The written responses applying to Anderson, Barker and Glidewell, along with supporting documents, may be viewed at the link:

https://tinyurl.com/2vxzjpnn