Audit: County Clerk’s Office Still a Mess

The annual Auditor of Public Accounts’ review of Charlottesville and Albemarle Clerks of Court are in, and the Albemarle Circuit Court continues to be in terrible shape, J. Reynolds Hutchins reports for the Daily Progress. The audit (PDF) of January 2012–March 2013 found that Clerk Debbie Shipp is holding into $434k that should probably be turned over to the state treasury as unclaimed property, submitted an annual report that was off by $64k, and an audit of 53 random cases found that 14 (26%) had significant errors. The audit also found that legally required fees aren’t always being charged, the books aren’t being balanced consistently, and Shipp didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. In her response (page 7 of the audit), Shipp cites the sudden death of her sister and employee, Pam Melampy, in January, as well as insufficient staffing. Shipp says that some of these concerns have been addressed, but for the remainder it doesn’t appear that anything has been done, or that there’s even a plan to do anything, other than want more staff.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how things went with last year’s audit, and the year before that. When Shipp cited insufficient staffing last year, county spokeswoman Lee Catlin flatly denied that, saying that these were problems of management, not staffing. The good news, I suppose, is that the 2011 audit found a 52% error rate, and last year’s audit found a 41% error rate—26% is an improvement, although the small sample size—53 cases—limits the reliability of that number.

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There are concerns found in the report about Charlottesville Clerk of Court Llezelle Dugger, too, although certainly not as severe, on balance. In 2011, when Paul Garrett was still Clerk of Court, the audit was a train wreck, but after Dugger was elected, the 2012 audit found a clean bill of health. This year’s audit finds that the clerk didn’t reconcile the bank account for the past year, that the office is holding north of $100k that may qualify as unclaimed property, a random audit of 41 cases found errors in 25 of them (61%), and Dugger also didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. While that sounds bad, in Dugger’s response she says that she does balance the books, that she’s had to get folks certified in handling some types of claims (when she took over the office, nobody was certified), that none of the $100k actually qualifies as unclaimed property, and that the 25 errors have been fixed and a new process has been put in place to prevent them from happening again.

For comparison, three neighboring counties have also been audited within this period. The audits of Buckingham County and Greene County found no problems, and Nelson only had problems in their random case audits, with 38% having some kind of mistake.

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

  • A byproduct of selecting the person who manages those offices not based on who is best qualified, but instead based upon who has the right name and party affiliation. $138k and $110k a year they make in the county and city, respectively.

  • sounds like a couple job opportunities for well organized folks, with strong math and computer skills. I hope for hotly contested races next time these offices are on the ballot.

  • So how do I get in on some of that “unclaimed property”?

    I can make some pretty outlandish claims if need be.

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