Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Sheriff's "record keeping"

Today's DN editorial discusses revelations by the Controller that the Sheriff's books aren't quite what they should be:

The Sheriff's "record keeping"

Butkovitz
Butkovitz

Today's DN editorial discusses revelations by the Controller that the Sheriff's books aren't quite what they should be:

With John Green's recent announcement that he'll be retiring, there eventually will be a new sheriff in town, but an unfortunate legacy of the outgoing sheriff is still haunting the office: shoddy fiscal management.

According to an audit by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office has "significant deficiencies" in record-keeping and internal financial controls. Among other concerns, the report found that more than $53 million in public funds may be at risk for fraud and mismanagement.

The problem was discovered when the controller requested documentation for bank accounts that hold funds generated by delinquent tax collections, foreclosures, and tax liens. Together, these accounts held more than $37 million; the sheriff failed to provide the controller with basic financial information. The audit also uncovered many other mistakes, including erroneous deposit amounts, no records of incoming or outgoing checks, and missing bank reconciliations. The audit also found that $10,000 in petty cash was missing, and no record-keeping of employee vacation or sick days.

Also missing: any explanation as to why, after years of similiarly negative reports and audits by the controller's office on similar shortcomings, the problems continued. Does that speak to the sheriff's disregard for oversight, or deficiencies in the controller's function; the controller reports the problems, but has no teeth to demand improvements. The Sheriff's Office should submit to a full forensic audit by an independent agency. Until then, we have no confidence that the office is a reliable guardian of public funds.

This is precisely the sort of coziness people often worry about with independent row offices and part of the reason we wonder whether the office should continue to exist as an independent entity.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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