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.

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