Published: Feb 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 09, 2013 05:25 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - Orange Countys Clerk of Superior Court office has changed how it handles cash and case files after a state audit found some employees had too much access.
A letter from State Auditor Beth Wood to Gov. Pat McCrory said the audit from Nov. 1, 2011, to Oct. 31, 2012 found a deficiency in internal control and/or instance of noncompliance. The results also were sent to the Speaker of the N.C. House and the N.C. Senate president.
The State Auditor audits every agency that receives state money, including nonprofits. State Auditor spokesman Bill Holmes said the last audit of the Orange County clerks office was in 2007. That audit didnt find any issues, he said.
The State Auditor does not comment on the agencys response to the audit, but the finding in Orange County is not an atypical finding, he said.
The Orange County office was cited for letting four employees occasionally take cash payments for civil and criminal files they also processed. The employees serve as temporary fill-ins for the full-time cashier, Clerk of Superior Court James Stanford said.
Although theyve used the same system for at least 12 years, its the first time theyve been found out of compliance, he said.
However, the State Auditors report says the system is contrary to the Clerk of Superior Court operations manual and creates a situation ripe for abuse. Clerks with too much access could easily misappropriate cash payments or waive criminal citations or judgments, the report stated.
The policy is important enough to be adopted whether efficiency or inefficiency is the consequence, the report stated.
While the finding is valid, Stanford said he cant let the states policies keep his office from doing its work. The combination of rigid policies and state budget cuts makes it literally impossible to keep our heads above water, he said.
His response to the audit was to build in more checks and balances. Only three people now fill in for the cashier, and clerks who handle the money for a case dont do the paperwork. A bookkeeper creates daily money and cash-flow reports, and the assistant clerk checks for adherence to the policy, he said.
Stanford said the clerks office has 18 deputy clerks and six assistants who work in Hillsborough and sometimes in Chapel Hill. They lost two staff members last year to voluntary state cutbacks, and he worries what the state legislature could cut next, he said.
The clerks office is involved in every court action, from handling criminal and civil case paperwork and payments to courtroom functions and cases involving estates, juveniles and families, adoptions, foreclosures and incompetencies.
Stanford said he constantly interacts with his staff and can track whats going on. Any discrepancies are discussed with the staff involved, he said.
Needless to say, staff understands that malfeasance on their part will result in swift, effective and permanent correction, he said.