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Council grapples with fixing problems uncovered by audits

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The Morgan County Council is making changes that they hope will fix a problem that auditors first pointed out in 2011 and the state auditor has recently asked them to rectify.  The council is implementing an employee time clock, reviewing employee policies and enacting a credit card policy all while state officials question Morgan’s form of government.

According to a letter read in the June 7 and June 14 Morgan County Council meetings, the state auditor’s office is asking Morgan to develop a unified payroll system, review current policies and train employees to ensure those charged with oversight and supervision have a clear understanding of the policies, procedures and processes to be followed.

The letter also told the council that they, as a legislative body, may make and enforce rules to govern itself, preserve order and transact business as necessary.

Councilwoman Tina Cannon has spearheaded implementing a time clock system for county employees.  The auditor’s letter says that elected officials have flexibility in how they account for their time, but the members of their departments are county employees subject to policies and procedures of the county as a whole.  Because county departments are not separate legal jurisdictions, they must adhere to county policies and procedures.

Cannon said the first step to fixing “the problem” is for the council to recognize its own authority to establish county-wide policies.

“According to the current audit letter, and one from 2011, there hasn’t been that authority.  The 2016 audit found the same thing,” Cannon said.  “The state auditor is saying not only do we have problems, but we have had these problems since 2011.”

Cannon asked the council formally acknowledge its power through a resolution, something County Attorney Jann Farris said was not necessary.

“I don’t think a piece of paper” will make a difference, Farris said. “Tell everyone to start getting more active in this role.”

But Cannon isn’t sure asking council members to take a more active role is enough.

“In my recent experience in dealing with the problem we have been trying to solve, there has been pushback over our ability as a council to go beyond the legislative role because of our form of government,” Cannon said.  “It is clear we have the authority.  I don’t think we have the political will in all cases.  We don’t act like we know we can do it.”

The council is also beginning to review the policies previously published in the employee handbook that Cannon would like to make public, along with job descriptions, on the county website.

“It is a very common practice for those to be very public,” Cannon said.

Cannon wanted the council to move quicker with their actions, as a response to the auditor’s office should have come by June 6.

“When I was tasked with this responsibility, I was tasked because of my professional background (as an accountant),” Cannon said.  “Now the council has tied my professional reputation to its action or inaction,” she said, referring to three agenda items that were not officially placed on the June 6 council agenda.  “It is embarrassing for me.  I am not your political shield.  I deserve the respect you allow me to complete a task you give me.”

Cannon publicly blamed Chairman Logan Wilde for the three items, including responding to the state auditor’s request, being left off the agenda.  She said there have been private discussions about removing Wilde as chairman of the council.  In the past, Wilde has expressed concern over fulfilling his duties as council chairman while also running a campaign for state office.

Cannon said auditors have questioned Morgan County’s form of government, one of only two state-wide with seven council members.

Councilman Daryl Ballantyne recently researched and drafted a new county credit card policy.  Council Administrative Secretary Tauna MacPherson, with her previous background in banking, was instrumental in drafting the new policy as well.

“Our background is we didn’t have a credit card policy” in the county,” Ballantyne said.  He researched the state’s policy, as well as credit card policies in Davis and Weber counties to draft Morgan’s.  The new policy should help departments turn in receipts, reduce taxes where exemptions haven’t been taken.

If there is an improper expenditure on a county credit card, the card can be taken away from the employee.

Councilman Austin Turner said the credit card policy came as a result of audit findings where the sheriff didn’t have receipts for 19 expenditures, most of them car washes for deputy vehicles.  Turner also said the county was being charged late fees because the card was not being paid off in a timely manner.

The new policy “is nit-picky,” Councilman John Barber said.  “If there is not a hard and fast rule, people go around it every day.”

“You have to have a paper trail for every cent you spend when you are spending someone else’s money,” said Councilman Robert Kilmer, who noted the new policy will help prevent fraud.

Those employees who do not follow the policy can be disciplined per county policy, and grievances can be written up as part of their human resource file to be considered during evaluations.

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