The long standing feud by some members of the Republican led County Delegation with the county commissioners continues. The delegation executive committee met on August 22nd (video here) with the only agenda item to approve a line item transfer for the nursing home, but clearly there was another agenda: a push for a forensic audit and a long discussion on the issue, despite the fact that there was not a quorum of the entire delegation presents. As Commissioner Babson said numerous time through the meeting, the only agenda item he was aware of was the line item transfer and this discussion started by Chair Karen Umberger was improper. More on that later in this post.
Some members of the delegation are pushing for a complete and expensive forensic audit while the commissioners have opted for a much less expensive focused audit to answer some specific questions.
The delegation has budgeted $139,000 for a forensic audit with the final cost still not known. The commissioners approved a focused audit to answer specific questions. If the auditor found any evidence of fraud or malfeasance, a forensic audit would be recommended.
Rep. Cordelli clearly believes that there has been some type of fraud over the years, despite statements from the NH DRA who performed an unprecedented review of the county operations last year found no evidence that there was any fraud. They did find that certain accounting procedures and internal controls were not in place and corrective measures were recommended. According to county administrator Ken Robichaud and finance director Charles Stuart, those issues have been addressed and proper internal controls and policies have been put in place and implemented. It is important to note that both men were hired in 2015 well after the budget meltdown. At the time, Carroll County was the only county in NH without an administrator.
At present, audits have been completed through 2015 and procedures as recommended by DRA and the auditors have been implemented. The commissioners want to spend a sensible amount of money to answer the most pertinent questions about the shortfalls rather than add another $120,000 to already burdened taxpayers. If anything untoward is found by the auditor, it would trigger a forensic audit. It is a logical and sensible approach and will provide the answers needed to move the county forward.
Unfortunately, the situation is at an impasse. If the delegation does not approve the $20,000 requested by the commissioners, there will be no focused audit, The commissioners will not approve conducting a forensic audit and some members of the delegation are threatening legal action ( more tax dollars), to force them to do so. So here we are, just about back where we started.
Back now to the delegation executive committee " discussion." There is a primary coming up on September 13th and the "question" posed by the committee was whether to keep the current scheduled delegation meeting in October or schedule a " special" meeting right after labor day ( and before the primary) . Representatives Cordelli, Umberger an McConkey have been the most vocal critics of the commissioners and have been instrumental in my opinion in getting us to this current impasse.
Commissioner Babson was correct to question why the audit was being discussed at a meeting to make a line item transfer, While no decisions were being made, the full delegation did not have the benefit of participating.The members of the executive committee present obviously discussed this unannounced agenda before the meeting and were intent on bringing it up. While not illegal under the the Right to Know law, it does speak to how the Chair and executive committee do business. If they had announced to the entire delegation ( and the public) that this was going to be discussed, perhaps they may have attended the meeting as well as members of the public to weigh in on the issue.
I support the commissioner's proposal for a $20,000 focused audit saving taxpayers about $120,000 and still answering the mot burning questions about the county finances, particularly around the nursing home. There really is no evidence of fraud so the push by Cordelli to find a culprit needs to stop. The delegation should approve the funds as requested , get the answers and move on. It is a sensible approach and in the unlikely event of finding illegal activity, then a basis for a forensic audit would be evident.
I would urge the delegation to approve the commissioner's plan so that we can finally bring it to a conclusion. I would also urge the delegation members not present to raise the issue with the executive committee about what should and should not occur at executive committee meetings