County bills would increase auditor's power over fraud and theft reports

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jerry Walker and Council Democrats have introduced two bills that would strengthen the county auditor’s investigation powers, but County Executive Steve Schuh called the legislation “boneheaded.”

“My idea is: If there is an incident of fraud or theft, the administration is welcome to investigate itself,” Walker said. “But there needs to be outside review. This was necessary to put in.”

Resolution 24-18, introduced by Walker, would require that reports of fraud and theft be sent to the county auditor, and allows the auditor to inspect records related to the report and forward findings to the county council and the county executive..

Resolution 26-18 broadens the auditor’s power by allowing the position to conduct “other” financial and performance audits of any office or department. It also allows the auditor to conduct separate investigations of fraud, waste or abuse allegations. Walker’s name appears first on the bill, with support from all three Democrats: Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis; Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills and Pete Smith, D-Severn.

Both bills are charter amendments. If passed, the amendments would appear on the November ballot. The Council will hold a public hearing on both bills at 7 p.m. Monday.

Walker said he introduced the bills because an ongoing audit of county credit cards revealed a county employee used taxpayer money for personal items and nobody knew, Walker said.

“The auditor’s office function is to make sure county taxpayer dollars are spent as intended,” Walker said. “They are the watchdog. When you don’t have someone independent looking at situations like this … their natural inclination will be not to expose it to the public.”

Schuh said the legislation is “boneheaded” because the auditor’s investigation power could be abused for politically motivated investigations. He said it would increase the Council’s power and tips the balance between the executive and legislative branches.

“The framers of our constitution were very accomplished, very intelligent and thoughtful people,” Schuh said. “Jerry Walker is Jerry Walker.”

When asked about Walker’s claims of the misuse of funds, a spokesman for Schuh said the office didn’t know of any incidents prompting the legislation.

“We aren't aware of any specific instance that would bring about the resolution,” said Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s spokesman. “We have a stellar record of working with (the) auditor’s office when they conduct actual financial inquiries.”

County auditor Jodee Dickinson, who has been nominated to serve as Annapolis’ finance director, did not return requests for comment. If confirmed by the City Council, she begins her work there on Aug. 1.

The county executive’s office traditionally handles personnel issues on its own, which they often decline to discuss in public.

The charter amendments don’t require that the auditor investigate every complaint. And it does not require the Council to act on every report. But the bills do grant the auditor — and thus the Council — more power over personnel issues. The Council currently only can add or remove funded positions within the county budget.

The auditor’s work typically focuses on analysis of upcoming expenses, and the review of spent taxes.

Most recently, the county auditor found “significant deficiencies” in the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office because employees failed to collect $110,000 in fees. The fees weren’t collected after an online peace order system was put in place in October 2014. There were 2,754 peace orders between then and June 2017.

Dickinson wrote that county sheriff Ron Bateman “has not established adequate internal controls over receiving and safeguarding cash receipts” and failed to collect fees on peace orders for nearly three years while improperly waiving payments for services, according to the report.

Batemen defended his office in a previous email interview. He said the process lacked protocols and had been corrected.

Bateman lost the primary election to Jim Fredericks, one of three Republicans running against the county sheriff.

Staff writer Phil Davis contributed to this report.

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