County audit finds issues on inventory

Surplus computers were sold without auction

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoGreg Kimsey, Clark County auditor

A routine county audit raised a red flag about Clark County employees in the Information Services department who were posting surplus computer equipment on Craigslist and buying it themselves.

The incidents came to light Tuesday when Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey released findings from his department's review of how county employees handle cash and track inventory.

Among the problems highlighted was: "Staff uses insider information to potentially benefit on assets sold."

Kimsey said the matter was turned over to the county's human resources department. HR Director Francine Reis was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, and it was unclear whether employees had been disciplined or if the investigation was ongoing.

About 30 Dell desktop computers — monitors not included — and laptops had been declared surplus, said Tom Nosack, internal performance auditor and senior management analyst. Under county policy, the decommissioned equipment should have been listed on an auction site such as eBay, Nosack said, not Craigslist.

That employees bought the equipment doesn't violate any rules, but eliminating the auction process took away a control the county uses to ensure equipment goes for fair market value.

"They weren't being sold at auction. That was the problem we had with it," Nosack said.

Nosack said fewer than five employees were involved. He said the computers were between four and six years old — the county typically sells computers as surplus equipment after five years — with obsolete hardware and without operating systems.

During an unannounced visit to the Information Systems office, Nosack said, about a dozen of the computers were examined and there was no evidence they'd been upgraded. However, the fact county employees who knew how the computers were configured — and in one case, an employee's roommate — bought the computers without going through auction opened up the potential for unethical behavior, Nosack said.

Or employees could buy the equipment and turn around and sell it for profit. "It was easy to see where it could happen," Nosack said, without sufficient controls.

The laptops were listed for $100 and desktops for between $40 and $50, he said, which were fair prices given that they were sold in inoperable condition, without an operating system.

'Collectible' coins

In 2013, the county had 79 different funds, including checking accounts, petty cash and funds for offices that accept payments from the public. The funds were authorized for a total of $260,645.

The report, "Review of Selected Internal Controls," noted instances of potentially troubling practices and included recommended safeguards.

For example, employees in the county corrections department had to receive a "re-education" about handling money after reports showing what type of cash was received didn't align with reports of what type of cash was deposited. The balance was accurate, Nosack said, but in one case what should have been 16 $1 bills and four $1 coins was deposited as 20 $1 bills.

As noted in the report, staff was "apparently swapping out potentially collectible coins."

Paul Harris, a program manager in the auditor's office, said county policy makes it clear employees are supposed to deposit money as it comes in and not use it to make change or add to a coin collection.

"We don't play with it, we don't modify it," he said.

Another department singled out was the Clark County Sheriff's Office for the money undercover officers use to buy drugs. Nosack said there was no evidence of any loss, but that they need to keep better records.

Kimsey said in a news release that auditing internal controls "is an important part of what the auditor's office does to help ensure the public's assets are protected. We are pleased to find department managers are monitoring and reviewing their cash handling operations — this is a critical element of 'setting the tone at the top' and maintaining effective internal controls."