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Commissioners outsource audit functions handled by ousted internal auditor

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By AJ Vicens

A little more than two months after abolishing the county's internal auditing department, the county commissioners voted to outsource several critical auditing functions once performed by the internal auditor.

Three areas will now be handled by an outside auditor: county-funded employee credit cards; employee complaints related to fraud or financial mismanagement; and a biannual audit of the Human Services business office. The contract auditor will also be asked to complete an annual risk assessment that will guide the county's audit committee and commissioners in choosing which areas of county government need auditing.

An outside auditor hasn't been selected yet, and it's unclear how much the audits will cost.

Jeffco Commissioner Kathy Hartman proposed the plan at an April 28 meeting, and the commissioners formally adopted the plan May 5. Hartman was traveling for personal reasons the week of May 5 and couldn't be reached for comment, but she did discuss her plan in a newsletter.

"This resolution was arrived at after several meetings with our Audit Committee," Hartman wrote. "The outside firm hired will report to the Audit Committee rather than the Board of County Commissioners. This should provide increased independence from politically motivated interference, something I determined was a continued risk with a staff internal auditor who reports directly to the Board of County Commissioners."

Susan Johnson, the county's internal auditor, and her assistant lost their jobs when the commissioners eliminated the department Feb. 17 on a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Kevin McCasky cast the dissenting vote.

The initial rationale offered by the county for eliminating the department was "to reduce administrative overhead costs." Johnson and her assistant cost the county more than $215,160 annually in salaries and benefits.

"At nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year for the department, it seemed duplicative," Hartman said in a Courier article just after the vote. "We have external auditors, federal auditors and an audit committee that can access any areas they want. The (internal audit department) was an idea of a previous board, and I think Commissioner (Faye) Griffin and I thought it was not a good use of taxpayer resources."

Hartman said Griffin initiated the idea to eliminate the internal audit department, which Griffin now denies.

Griffin said the idea to eliminate the department was floating around county leadership before she became a commissioner in January.

"I did not start that," Griffin said in a May 6 interview. "It was something going on before I came up here. I then got word that it was something (other elected officials) were talking about, and I agreed."

Griffin did defend the decision to eliminate the internal auditor and outsource those duties.

"We can get those things and not have to pay twice as much for them," Griffin said May 6, referring to audits Johnson performed.

She also said the new process will now be more independent.

"For instance, if I, as a commissioner, would tell her to go do an audit on somebody, then somebody would think I was out to get them," Griffin said. "This way, everybody will know what the plans are all along."

McCasky, who voted to keep Johnson, supported the recent decision to outsource some auditing functions. "I hope in the end the function of externalizing internal auditing is not only efficient but is a cost-saving measure as well," McCasky said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.