Council approves kinder, gentler audit of sheriff’s office

Columbus Council today approved a special audit of Sheriff John Darr’s office.
Columbus Council today approved a special audit of Sheriff John Darr’s office. mhaskey@ledger-ennquirer.com

Columbus Council voted unanimously today to authorize the city’s internal auditor to perform a special audit of Sheriff John Darr’s office, its finances and operations, but not until changing the wording of the proposal.

The resolution’s original wording authorizes Internal Auditor John Redmond to “perform a special audit of the finances and operations of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office. The Internal Auditor is further authorized to engage experts from the external auditor of the Consolidated Government or another entity as needed to complete this special audit. Reports shall be submitted to this Council upon completion of each phase of such special audit.”

Councilor Skip Henderson proposed to change the wording to make it sound more like the city would be helping Darr find ways to stay within his budget.

“I think a more accurate statement would be that we’re assisting the sheriff’s office in finding possible savings,” Henderson said. “We’re offering this in the spirit of cooperation.”

Redmond, who will perform the audit, said he doubted the new wording would change the way he will approach the task, but he agreed with changing the original wording. He said he did not want the wording to make the audit seem to be “adversarial.”

“It does make it sound more fair and balanced, and I think that’s the way it should be,” Redmond said.

Redmond said he has not yet spoken to Darr about the audit, but he expects to begin the process in a few weeks.

At a July council meeting concerning his budget, Darr agreed to an audit of his office, but said he would prefer an outside auditor, such as Albright & Fortenberry, a local accounting firm that regularly does business with the city.

Last month, after Darr objected publicly to Redmond performing the audit, council voted unanimously to postpone making a decision on the audit. Darr specifically mentioned Albright & Fortenberry.

At the time, Councilor Mike Baker, a certified public accountant by profession, said he would agree to the delay, but would ultimately side with Redmond performing the audit, regardless of Darr’s objections.

“Whether you’re talking about government or private business, you don’t get to pick your auditor,” Baker said.

Darr could not immediately be reached for comment on council’s vote but has said in the past he has no objection to an audit of his office, but only by an outside agency — not the city’s internal auditor, John Redmond — because of his lack of knowledge of law enforcement.

“John Redmond knows nothing about the operation of a jail or its manpower needs,” Darr said. “What’s his background in law enforcement? He has none. So I would have a concern about that.”

Darr has overspent his budget every year since taking office in 2008, totaling about $10 million in overruns. Tomlinson says it’s a matter of poor management on Darr’s part. Darr says it’s a matter of the city chronically underfunding his office, making it impossible to carry out his legally mandated duties without breaking his budget.

Darr is one of four elected officials who in late 2014 filed suits against the city, members of Columbus Council and the city’s top executive leaders over the amount of their budgets and the process by which the budgets were produced.