Greene chair is seeing red

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 21, 2004

EUTAW – One Greene County commissioner wants to know where the money, and he’s not getting many answers amid an on-going state and federal probe into financial mismanagement.

Commission Chairman Chip Beeker said the county’s payroll account has been the target of an electronic theft, but he can’t determine how much money is missing because bank statements haven’t been reconciled in months.

The Alabama Bureau of Investigation confirmed it was conducting a criminal investigation into the county’s finances. Beeker said that investigation has been assisted by the Examiners of

Public Accounts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has been on-going for months.

“In June I brought it to the commission that the bank statements had not been reconciled

and I have not seen one time where those books have been reconciled, and nothing has happened [to the employees responsible for reconciling statements,]” he said.

Beeker says because the accounts were not reconciled, it was possible for someone to set up a draft on the account to pay a personal credit card. Those payments caused commission payroll checks to bounce and add about $5,000 in overdraft fees to the county’s losses.

That credit card, he said, belong to someone outside the commission office and he did not implicate any county employee in the crime, blaming sloppy bookkeeping for the whole mess.

Beeker couldn’t quantify the amount of money missing from county coffers and said that only after he went to Citizens Trust Bank to get financial reports was the problem discovered.

“It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not chicken feed either.”

Beeker also blames County Administrator Mattie Atkins for not providing the commission with monthly financial statements. In June, he said, Atkins and payroll clerk Bettie Knott were given written reprimands for providing the statements.

Atkins told the Tuscaloosa News she needed more staff to manage the books and reconcile the statements.

“That’s what the administrator is for,” Beeker said. “She’s supposed to take care of the finances and I haven’t seen a financial report yet.”

The county uses a Birmingham accounting firm to straighten out its books so that the county can undergo state-mandated annual audits. Beeker said the county has in the past received letters from the Examiners’ office that stated the county’s finances were “unauditable.”

“That’s why we started having to have the accounting firm fix the books – at $10,000 a whack,” he said. “When I started calling for this [reconciliation] this time, they sent [the books] off to get somebody else to do their work.”

The “they” Beeker is referencing are the commission’s three full-time and three part-time office workers, a larger staff than 36 other county commission offices statewide.

“Greene County is the smallest of those and we have more people on the payroll … and can’t get the bank accounts reconciled,” he said. “It drives me nuts.”

“When you have payroll checks to bounce, that’s serious,” he said, adding that even a check to a commissioner had been returned for non-sufficient funds.

“It’s tremendously irritating that we have people that won’t do their jobs,” Beeker said.

Not having an accounting presents a problem for commissioners trying to pass a budget, which the commission did last week – a $2 million general fund budget and about the same amount in the highway budget, Beeker said.

The general fund budget is expected to be about $100,000 short of what’s needed to cover the county’s expenses in the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

“I think we’re going to be about $100,000 short, but you not really sure because you have to know how much money is in the bank and we don’t know that,” he said.

Revenues were also below what was needed to meet expenses in fiscal year 2004 as well, Beeker said.

“Last year’s budget was short on revenue, but I had assets that I could use to meet those expenses when it was needed,” he said. “I had to know when to cash in those assets to get the budget to work but I could never find the [financial] information that I needed to make those decisions.”

“We passed the budget last week because the law requires it, but how do you do a budget without having the accounts reconciled,” he asked.

It’s a question he’s asked before – in 1998 when he became chairman of the commission after having served for two terms.

“I went to the commission with the same problem – the [commission’s] just does not function,” he said.

Chief Examiner Ronald Jones did not immediately return phone calls for this story.