County gets glowing audit despite records in ‘disarray’

State auditors held an exit conference with Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s staff Thursday morning and what they had to say was, by and large, positive.

At times, the feedback sounded positively glowing.

“We’re pleased to say that we had no findings during the current audit,” audit manager Casey Dwyer said.

That means the auditors found no red flags.

They also described county finance department employees as “very helpful” and said they provided information “in a timely manner.”

Auditor’s staff at the meeting also distanced themselves from earlier comments, from their office, about county travel and expense records being in “disarray.”

While the state audits county finances and grant programs as a matter of routine, this examination came at an extraordinary time for Snohomish County.

Since October, the Washington State Patrol has been investigating Reardon’s use of taxpayer money, including spending during out-of-town trips. County social worker Tami Dutton has alleged she accompanied Reardon on trips as part of a years-long affair, and that he did little or no work during those trips. She also said the pair regularly spent hours on the phone.

As part of that investigation, patrol detectives asked state auditors to look at purchases and travel-related expenses during the course of their regular audit of the county finances.

Reardon didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting, but others from his office did. They included Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson and finance director Roger Neumaier.

In February, The Seattle Times quoted an auditor’s office spokeswoman describing the county’s records as being in “disarray.”

In February, Haakenson wrote to state Auditor Brian Sonntag expressing concern about those comments.

On Thursday, Sonntag stood by the description of the county’s records, but he also confirmed the good things his staff had to say about working with the finance department. There’s no contradiction there, he said.

“It really had nothing to do with the regular audit,” Sonntag said. “The audit’s the audit. That generally will describe the relationship that our folks have, generally a very good one, with the finance folks at Snohomish County.”

That said, the travel documents and receipts kept by the executive’s office weren’t always complete. That wasn’t necessarily a problem during the audit, he said, because the county allows employees, including Reardon, to be reimbursed on a per-diem basis, rather than item by item.

Audit manager Dwyer called the results for the county “overall a great audit.”

The auditors did find room for improvement.

The County Council approved three amendments to the 2010 budget made after the end of that year. Instead, they should make those amendments before year’s end.

Another recommendation concerned a $12,000 purchase for recycling canisters awarded through a sole-source contract. That should have been put to a competitive bid.

Auditors also noted that three of 34 credit-card purchases reviewed had no valid government purpose. That included $250 spent for a table at an awards breakfast and two purchases for sympathy flowers totalling $136. Auditors said the county should improve policies for fuel cards and noted a few minor discrepancies with employee overtime, such as time sheets not being signed by a supervisor.

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