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Palm Coast Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 3 years ago

County Commissioner: Supervisor of Elections Office should have a forensic audit

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As the court case against former elections supervisor Kimberle Weeks moves forward, Commissioner Frank Meeker has urged the county to pay for a forensic audit of the elections office before the upcoming elections.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The end of Flagler County's former elections supervisor's stint in office was far from drama-free. Public meetings were contentious affairs, and the former supervisor, Kimberle Weeks, has now been charged with 12 felonies related to the surreptitious recording of county officials and others, and transmitting those recordings.

County Commissioner Frank Meeker suggested at a commission meeting Feb. 1 that the county have a forensic audit of the Elections Office before the upcoming elections. 

"Whoever is the supervisor of elections at the end of the election needs to know that the office has been wrapped up tight, has been handed a bow, and they are free and unfettered to go out and do their job," he said. "And until we do, I believe, a forensic audit of that operation, I don't think we'll ever know and I don't think the public will ever know."

A forensic audit would likely be done by a firm other than the county's usual auditing firm, and paid for through the county budget, not the Supervisor of Elections Office budget. It would determine whether policies and procedures were followed properly within the elections office, and might suggest new practices. 

So far, Meeker said, "All we have done, basically, is, 'let's stop what we're doing with the old checkbook and let's start with the new checkbook going forward from here,'" he said. "And I think that was good and wise. ... But it's this lack of the audit and the lack of closing out this episode that is annoying me. And I keep having people coming up and asking questions about, 'Well, what about this issue,' 'What about this issue,' 'What happened on this,' or 'Was there improper spending,' — you know, whatever — and I don't know, and we don't know."

County Administrator Craig Coffey said that the county's regular auditing firm is already auditing the Elections Office, and that it does review whether policies and procedures were followed. But it does so through a sampling of various transactions, so the process is not as comprehensive as a forensic audit.

"Whoever is the supervisor of elections at the end of the election needs to know that the office has been wrapped up tight, has been handed a bow, and they are free and unfettered to go out and do their job."

— FRANK MEEKER, Flagler County commisssioner

"If we're only picking random samples and hitting here and hitting here and hitting there, you don't have a clean look at what's going on," Meeker said. "At the end of this election cycle, whoever's there needs to know that the office is clean, and is ready to move forward."

The elections office is now under the authority of Kaiti Lenhart, who was an elections office worker under Weeks and was appointed by the governor to take Weeks' place as an interim elections supervisor after Weeks resigned. Lenhart is running for the position of supervisor of elections, alongside two other candidates: Kimble Medley and Abra Seay.

Coffey and Meeker, Coffey said, "have had discussion of four or five issues that may be outside the scope of our regular auditor. And some of them will date back several years. ... those are things we could look at and we could get some quotes on what it would cost. Forensic audits aren't cheap, and sometimes you've got to weigh the cost of doing that."

Commissioner Barbara Revels pointed out that a good deal of time has passed since Weeks resigned — more than a year. At this point, she said, even if the audit found something, what would the county be a able to do about it?

"Assume the worst," Meeker replied, "assume the worst, that something — I really hate to say this in a public forum, quite honestly, because it will be blown out of proportion as soon as I say it — but assume the worst, that something criminal happened. Does a new person want to walk into an organization that has that kind of stigma attached to it? Unless we close out the books and a new person knows what they've got, they can't proceed ahead in due process to just do the job and not worry about what happened in the past. I think we need to close out the past."

Commissioner George Hanns said he believed the county's regular auditing firm would find any irregularities there may be.

But, he said, "There’s been a number of things that the current supervisor of elections has dealt with that had been neglected in previous years with the equipment and the backup batteries and things of that nature. There’s been a lot of work done by the new person to ensure that the upcoming elections would be maintained without any fault or failures of the system. So, you know, I’m flexible on it."

The commission suggested Meeker speak with the county administration about specific issues that might warrant a forensic audit, and that county staff then discuss them with the county's current audit firm, and check into what a forensic audit might cost and consider putting out  request for proposal for a forensic audit. The commission will discuss the issue again at an upcoming meeting. 

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