Audit: County Clerk’s Office a Mess

For the second year in a row, a state financial audit of the Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office has found that it’s a total mess, Samantha Koon writes in the Daily Progress today. The annual report by the Auditor of Public Accounts, which reviews every municipality in Virginia, can be read on the APA website (PDF), and it’s worth at least reading the two-page summary at the beginning of the document. In short, there are very large amounts of money (cash and checks) lying around the office unprocessed and undeposited for months at a time, legal documents unrecorded for months, over half a million dollars being held instead of being given to the state, significant accounting errors, and money not being deposited into interest-bearing accounts, among other problems. Perhaps most damning is the audit of a random 58 cases, which found errors in 24 (41%) of them. This is all scarcely better than last year’s audit. Notable is that last time the auditors found that Clerk of Court Debbie Shipp hadn’t so much as balanced the operations bank account since April 2008; this time they write that she “performs monthly bank reconciliations and properly identifies reconciling items; however, she does not take prompt action to correct the reconciling items.” This hardly constitutes an improvement.

Clerk of Court is, for reasons that seem increasingly foolish, an elected position in Virginia. Shipp, a Democrat, was elected to a six-year term in 2007. In Shipp’s response, also part of the report, she cites the death of her son in a car accident last year and the death of her sister (and employee), Pam Melampy, of a brain aneurysm in January. She says that the real problem is insufficient staffing levels, which county spokeswoman Lee Catlin flatly denies to Koon, saying that these problems are problems of management, not staffing levels.

The good news is the improvement in the Charlottesville Clerk’s office. Last year’s audit found that it was nearly as bad as the Albemarle Clerk’s Office. That was when long-time clerk Paul Garrett was still in office. Surely aided by that report, Llezelle Dugger defeated Garrett in last year’s election, and this year’s report finds that the office is wholly turned around. For comparison’s sake, I glanced at the reports for surrounding counties. They’re all in good shape—Albemarle is clearly an outlier.

6 Responses to “Audit: County Clerk’s Office a Mess”

  • danpri says:

    Yeah… so letting the public decide who is ready to handle the money seems foolish at times.

  • perlogik says:

    Why this is elected office and why 8 years? It really should not be elected. Shipp ran on the fact she had been in that office for 30 years, it seems she had learned nothing.

    Not even taking personal responsibility for the errors – no mea culpa leads me to believe little will change for the next several years. She should resign but she won’t. It’s quite shameful that a public servant can do such a below mediocre job and still get paid over 100k.

  • If this weren’t an elected position, she’d be fired. It’s so crazy that this is even a position that we vote on. Being a race that’s so far downticket, an election like this is a combination of popularity contest and which party generally gets the most voters out. (There are always plenty of undervotes by the time somebody gets this far down the ballot—a lot of people have never heard of this race or the candidates when they step into the booth.) Because, after all, what in the world do we voters know about voting for Clerk of Court?

  • the boss of me says:

    “Because, after all, what in the world do we voters know about voting for Clerk of Court?”

    not to vote for Paul Garrett in Charlottesville last time around, which is a start at least…

  • Robert says:

    The Clerk of Court, like the Sheriff, CW Attorney, Commissioner of Revenue, Treasurer etc are long-tenure, well paid positions because that is how the Byrd Organization designed their loyalist reward system, maintained statewide control, and made certain that public office was a privilege reserved to a select few. It was never designed to promote good government.

  • perlogik says:

    I think that sheriff should be elected- look at the mess in Greene County. While it has little impact in Albemarle it matters in many counties. The Commonwealth attorney also seems like it should be elected -ie Jim Camblos

    But Clerk of the Court with it’s 8 year term makes little sense in the modern day.

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