Knox County Business Practices Must Astound Local Managers

If you set up a system where people could take thousands of dollars without it being noticed, do you think you could get away with saying you didn’t know about it?

I’m sure there are middle managers around town who have been reading stories about county government for the last three years with their mouths agape. For a manager in any well-run organization, whether it be private business, a non-profit, or a government agency, financial controls are job one.

I’m sure the general public is also outraged about financial scandal after financial scandal, but the people who are charged with financial controls day in and day out have to be asking themselves what would happen to them if they ran their organizations like county government. Fired? Yes. Prosecuted? Yes. Have to pay the money back? Probably. So why do all these people keep getting away with it?

We are all outraged about AIG executives getting millions in bonuses from a taxpayer bailout. Where is the outrage over home theater equipment on the county’s dime and blatant payroll abuse? Isn’t it time County Commission and officeholders start asking for the money back?

It seems that a special prosecutor and a TBI investigation have become government double-speak for stall, delay, and run out the clock. And in the meantime they don’t have to talk about it. At the rate the Ragsdale “investigation” is going, Mike Lowe will be on Social Security before he has to answer any questions.

You should know that nothing prevents county commissioners from taking county auditors, county audits, and county records down to a Knox County grand jury and then lay it all out. I would bet that the average grand juror could look at the public record, call some people in, and put them under oath and issue indictments forthwith. Probably a dozen of them.

In fact, I’m surprised that a seated grand jury during the past two years hasn’t started calling people in to testify—it must be taking a yeoman effort on the part of the DA’s office to keep them from finding out they have that power. In today’s business world, purchase orders, cash advances, and reconciling paper expense accounts are about as useful as green eyeshades and quill pens. The use of corporate credit cards and purchasing cards give organizations even more control over expenses and accounting. Unless, of course, you are a bloomin’ idiot.

At the end of every month, a manager gets a print-out of all the charges on each employee card, usually stapled to receipts or explanations for each charge. It is usually the department heads’ responsibility to go through these statements, sign off on every charge, initial them, and forward them to accounting. They are then checked again and if anything is not perfectly clear the department head and the employee get to explain it again to the accountants. Or the boss. And it had better be right.

My point here is that the idea that credit cards or purchasing cards (the infamous P-cards in county government) are some sort of license to steal is ridiculous. Any elected official, be he the county mayor or the trustee, who did not have monthly statements reviewed, verified, and approved is a fool. The answer is not to get rid of purchasing cards; it’s to get rid of idiots in office.

If you are a department head in any organization around town, ask yourself what would have happened to you had you allowed this to occur. Could you plead ignorance? If you set up a system where people could take thousands of dollars without it being noticed, do you think you could get away with saying you didn’t know about it? It’s your damn job to know about it and set up financial controls to see that it doesn’t happen.

No one seems to care because it’s just the taxpayers’ money. We saw it in the investigations into County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s office. If Trustee Fred Sisk, and his predecessor Mike Lowe, didn’t know an employee was getting paid over $100,000 above his salary they should have. It should be up to them to pay it back. And Lowe can reimburse the county for a home entertainment center and a box of Sopranos episodes.

You want to clean up county government?

How about some perp walks?

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