Here’s why the Clerk of Council Office received an audit
Clerk of Council Tiny Washington will remain on paid leave after the forensic auditor presented results of a seven-month investigation that uncovered missing contracts, minutes and some ordinances still not updated, city officials said Tuesday.
The announcement on Washington’s status came from City Attorney Clifton Fay after Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Columbus Council emerged from a closed-door meeting on a personnel issue and a legal matter at the City Services Center. A vote of the council continued the decision the panel made on Aug. 3 to place Washington on paid leave.
Washington, 58, has been a city employee for more than 38 years and clerk of council since Jan. 1, 1996, human resources records show. Appointed by the 10-member council, Washington was responsible for managing the agenda for council meetings, recording ordinances and resolutions adopted by the council and keeping accurate minutes. She also updated the code of ordinances when changes were made and kept information on 40 boards, committees and commissions among other duties.
After the meeting, Mayor pro-tem Evelyn Turner Pugh said council would be looking into the findings of the audit report. “Whatever the audit findings are, we are going to look at each one of them and we aren’t going to skip over them,” she said. “We are going to try and straighten them out. The citizens can have that as my word.”
Turner said there wasn’t anything missing when Councilor Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson requested an audit of the office and won approval from council on Nov. 28, 2017.
“Now that the audit report has been presented to us completely, we are going to be looking into each part of it,” Pugh said. “As it relates to those findings, we are going to have to address the findings and how we are going to clean it up.”
When asked how the current clerk on leave fits into the job, Pugh said, “Council will have to look at the audit findings and we’ll decide who is going to do what as far as qualified.”
In regard to the missing documents, Pugh said they will be looking for answers. “I think one of the things we’re looking at were the documents actually missing or in another box,” she asked? “Was everything put together in the same place? Until we get to the bottom of that, we don’t know.”
When asked if she has confidence the clerk can continue in the job, Pugh said, “possibly.”
Washington was at the conference on Jan. 22 when the audit started with internal auditor John Redmond and forensic auditor Elizabeth Barfield, who presented the findings to council. In a random sample of ordinances, the audit looked at ordinances last updated April 17, 2018, but the update on MuniCode, the software used to keep track of the ordinances, only included laws passed through Oct. 31, 2017. Records show 21 ordinances have been passed between Nov. 1, 2017, and May 25, 2018. A recommendation was to update the system monthly, though the clerk said there is a cost.
From 2008 to 2018, the audit reviewed a sample of 47 contracts. All resolutions were found online in DocDepot on the clerk’s website. Only 15 of the actual contracts were available online and 19 of the original hard copy documents were found in the office. The remaining 28 contracts weren’t located, with contracts stored in boxes by the year and no order to contents. The audit recommended implementing a system to track contracts to make sure they are all signed and filed in a secured manner. The clerk said there was a backlog from a former employee.
The audit found that minutes of meetings were written verbatim while Georgia’s Open Meetings and Open Record Laws call for a summary of minutes available to public in two business days of as meeting. Minutes were reviewed in 30 meetings from 2008 to 20017. In nine of the years, no minutes were found in the official book or no book was found in the vault area of the office. Only partial minutes were found for the other years.
Minutes not found in the official books were available from others sources but anyone trying to access information online would have little success unless a phone call was made to the clerk’s officer for assistance.
The audit described minutes in “draft” quality. “They included incomplete sentences, incorrect names, incomplete recording of votes and appointments, and incorrect dollar amounts, dates and time,” the report stated. Some documents appeared in verbatim style and others summarized.
The Clerk of Council’s budget was reviewed over a period of 13.7 years. It ranged from $171,854 in fiscal year 2005 to $233,494 in fiscal 2014. Its current budget is $230,000. During eight years, the office was slightly below the annual budget and slightly over for five of the years by 1 to 4 percent. When the budget went over, funds were shifted from the smaller office supplies budget.
In an action plan from Barfield, the audit recommended an assigned employee to maintain contracts, identify dedicated resources to help with backlog of minutes and switch to summary format. Ordinances passed must be included in Municode for public review.
Barfield also suggested it would be beneficial to have a certified person with a solid foundation not to just move forward but to maintain the office in the future. Washington’s annual salary is about $79,753.
Councilor Judy Thomas questioned who would do a review of the office. Barfield said that would be left up to council.
The office will be managed by Deputy Clerk Lindsey Glisson and part-time staffer Tameka Colbert while the findings are under review.