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      8-24-06  

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas' opponent offers opinions on special audit
Montee says 'buck stops' with county auditor
by Dave Kinnamon
Landmark reporter

The Democrat candidate and the Republican candidate for Missouri state auditor are both currently serving as county auditors, in abutting western Missouri counties.

Susan Montee, the Democrat candidate, and Sandra Thomas, the Republican candidate, work only about 30 miles from one another.

Montee, a certified public accountant (CPA) and attorney, is the Buchanan County auditor, with her office in St. Joseph. Montee resides with her family in St. Joseph.

Thomas, a CPA, is the Platte County auditor, an office she has held for the past 12 years. Thomas’ office is at the Platte County administration building in Platte City, and she and her family reside in the Tiffany Springs area in Platte County.

Montee and Thomas have a lot in common. They are two of the only 19 county auditors (of 112 counties in Missouri) who are elected by county voters rather than hired by the county commission. Montee and Thomas are regional neighbors. They are both county auditors. They are both CPAs. They both seek an important state office—state auditor—currently held by Claire McCaskill, who is running for U.S. Senate against current U.S. Sen. Jim Talent.

Though Montee and Thomas live and work very close to one another geographically, the two ladies’ opinions about the lessons learned from Platte County’s recent accounting discrepancies appear starkly different. Their public accounting philosophies differ in terms of officeholder accountability.

Montee, who has been Buchanan County auditor since 2000, believes that the recent $195,000 accounting discrepancy in the Platte County treasury could have been solved earlier with better communication between the Platte County auditor’s and treasurer’s offices.

“The thing that jumps out at the beginning is the lack of communication between the officeholders (in Platte County),” Susan Montee told The Landmark on Monday.

“In our county (Buchanan), we really try to communicate well with all officeholders, regardless of their party affiliation. If you can’t work with the officeholders from your county, what does that say about your ability to work with the officeholders at the state?” Montee asked.

After the $195,000 discrepancy between Platte County’s general ledger and its main checking account was first disclosed by county treasurer Bonnie Brown last month, Sandra Thomas placed the blame squarely on Brown’s shoulders.

Thomas sent an email to all the commissioners criticizing Brown for “hiding” the discrepancy from the county auditor’s office.

Montee believes that the accounting function belongs to the auditor’s office and that it was incumbent on Thomas to make herself aware of the imbalance and to discover the source of the imbalance.

“Accounting issues are the responsibility of the auditor. She (Thomas) needs to take responsibility for the accounting of Platte County. If this had happened in my county, it would be all my fault. I would take the blame,” Montee said.

Thomas believes Montee’s criticisms are all politically, rather than professionally, motivated.

“It’s an election year. My opponent would like to make a big deal of this discrepancy for political purposes,” Thomas told The Landmark on Tuesday.

Thomas breaks the $195,000 accounting discrepancy into three categories.

Thomas says a duplicate $62,000 interest entry in the county’s ledger was made by Groszek in 2004 after Thomas had already posted the entry correctly earlier in the year. Groszek failed to disclose the duplicate $62,000 interest entry to her office, Thomas claims.

At the Buchanan County auditor’s office, Montee and her staff begin the process of wrapping up the year’s accounting almost at “stroke of midnight on the last day of the year,” she said.

“We reconcile everything at the end of the year because in January the commission has to adopt a new budget. We have to have accurate ‘carry-forward’ numbers from the previous year to give to the commission,” Montee said.

Montee highlighted the fact that the Buchanan County auditor’s office reviews the Buchanan County treasurer’s monthly bank reconciliation to ensure it balances with the county’s general ledger. Every month her office does this.

This review function is a duty of the county auditor, Montee believes.

“My reading of the statute is that the auditor is responsible for ensuring that the monthly reconciliations and the auditor’s books strike a balance,” Montee said.

As an example, Montee referred to a time when the Buchanan County books were off by 9 cents. Montee and her staff continued to trace the difference until they reconciled the 9 cents, Montee said.

The statutes to which Montee referred are Missouri Revised Statutes 55.010 and 55.160, which describe the duties and responsibilities of Missouri’s county-level auditors.

Thomas offered to do a monthly review of the treasurer’s bank reconciliation as a proposed partial solution to the county’s accounting problems. Thomas said this corrective procedure would be implemented immediately at Platte County except that “the treasurer has to get some 2006 financial statements reconciled first.”

Platte County’s external auditor, Mike Groszek, of the accounting firm Troutt, Beeman & Co., P.C., of Harrisonville, recommended the same in his special report to the Platte County commissioners last Thursday.

Point 9 of Groszek’s written recommendations states, “When the treasurer’s office completes the monthly bank reconciliation it should be forwarded and signed off by the auditor’s office. This will help ensure that any reconciliation difficulties will be communicated in a timely manner.”

Montee was clear in stating her opinion that the accounting function is the job of the county auditor. “The buck stops” with the auditor, Montee said.

The majority of the $195,000 discrepancy is due to $122,000 in checks posted to the county’s main checking account ledger number instead of a segregated funds ledger number, Groszek determined in his findings, a point in which Thomas concurs. Thomas said she located this $122,000 and made a correcting entry in the county’s books this past March.

“We will have to reverse that $122,000 entry that I made if we are to implement Mr. Groszek’s $122,000 correction,” Thomas said.

Thomas also noted that each correcting entry is logged into a journal at the time the correction is made and that Platte County treasurer Bonnie Brown receives a copy of all the journal entries made by the auditor’s office.

Vic Hurlbert, Clay County auditor and a fellow CPA, analyzed Groszek’s special report from last Thursday and believes, like Montee, that lack of communication between Platte County officeholders was a main cause for Platte County’s recent $195,000 accounting fiasco.

“I think Platte County needs better communication between the treasurer’s office and the auditor’s office. There comes a point in time when you have to cross party lines and get things worked out,” Hurlbert told The Landmark.

Hurlbert is president of the Missouri Association of County Auditors, a sub-group of the Missouri Association of Counties.

Both Thomas and Montee are members of the Missouri Association of Auditors. Hurlbert said he knows both women well because of the association and through the three’s common profession of public accounting.

Hurlbert also emphasized that he has close friendships with both women and that his comments are unbiased and aimed toward the auditing and accounting jobs, not individual people.

Hurlbert also disclosed during The Landmark interview that he supported Thomas during the recent Republican primary for Missouri State auditor.

“When you’re dealing with cash, you have to make sure that the cash balances match up with the general ledger accounts. No one stole any money in Platte County, they just put it in the wrong bucket,” Hurlbert said.

“The auditor is like the final frontier, the final watchdog of public funds,” he said.

“Errors happen in any county. It’s a matter of finding out why, not pointing fingers,” Hurlbert said.

According to external auditor Groszek, about $11,000 of the $195,000 imbalance was due to incorrect interest posting in 2004 and 2005.

To Thomas, these incorrect postings should have been caught by the treasurer’s office.

“The treasurer’s office did not reconcile the bank statements in a timely manner. If she had, we would have caught it and corrected it. We would never have had this issue,” Thomas said.

To Thomas, the root problem was a lack of communication from the treasurer’s office.

“My office has done everything to try to work with the treasurer’s office. She failed to communicate that she had a problem. She did not communicate the problem to anyone. We can’t remedy the problem when we don’t know about it,” Thomas said.

Thomas stands by the performance of the Platte County auditor’s office.

“I’m proud of my record. I have a record of nine consecutive national awards. I will compare my record to hers (Susan Montee’s) any day of the week,” Thomas said.

 

 
 

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