HARRISBURG — An audit report looking into the Saline County Clerk and Recorder's Office alleges dysfunction in the office, noncompliance with laws and mandates and "concerning and suspicious activity."
The Saline County Board released the findings and recommendations of the forensic audit of County Clerk Kim Buchanan's office, performed by Marsh Minick P.C. of Portland, Oregon.
The audit states: “The forensic audit of Saline County Clerk and Recorder’s Office concluded on Jan. 11, 2018, with the following findings: Controls are dysfunctional and mitigate risks to a limited extent; apparent willful non-compliance with laws and mandates; and direct evidence of concerning and suspicious activity."
The audit calculates the financial impact to the county is approximately $1,084,301.30 from potential mismanagement, waste and abuse, based on the auditors’ assessment of evidence. That amount includes: $22,064.13 of expenditures for new employees in the clerk’s office hired after the county board instituted a hiring freeze; $26,113 above the budgeted amount for the office (as of October 2017); $400,000 borrowed from the Social Security levy for IMRF levy from 2013 to 2014; $597,451 paid from IMRF Levy for Egyptian Health Department Levy during the examination period; $1,480 in a duplicated payment to a contractor who is a relative of Buchanan; as well overpayment of insurance premiums and document storage charges; unrecovered bounced check fees, wrong fees charged; and other items.
The audit report gives six recommendations: Implement an ethics committee and advisor; a discussion with the state’s attorney regarding available legal options; improve the monthly financial report spreadsheet (ordinance 131) to align more closely with fees collected by county clerk and recorder’s office; address previous audit findings; disclose forensic report to regular auditors; and provide clerk and recorder with written instructions for handling insurance changes and offices with a comprehensive benefits book that is retained for employees.
Saline County Commissioner Joe Jackson, who chairs both the budget committee and audit committee, said his impression is that the county clerk, according to the audit, has made a lot of mistakes — some financial, some law-breaking.
“For instance, not keeping the election office open eight hours when they are open and not complying with judge’s order 131 appear to be a willful breaking of the law,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he does not know if there is any criminal wrongdoing highlighted in the report, adding that has yet to be determined. He said he does feel there is a lot of dysfunction stemming from Buchanan being in office.
“We are still in the process of determining how to move forward from this. State’s Attorney Jayson Clark is our legal adviser, and we have placed this in his hands on how to move forward,” Jackson said.
Some of Jackson’s concerns include Buchanan overcharging for mileage during last year’s municipal elections and not providing documentation to go with the mileage; hiring of family members without bidding the contracts; and borrowing from Social Security to pay pensions without County Board approval.
Jackson said the dysfunction continued into the budgeting process for the current fiscal year. The county clerk turned in her budget levies the night the budget was put on display for the public. Then she objected because the amounts differed. Levies were requested in September and the budget was displayed in January.
“Budgets should have been presented in November for passing at the November regular meeting, but we were waiting on insurance quotes, which put us way behind,” Jackson said.
Buchanan, on the other hand, disputes the findings of the report, saying auditors did not have complete information.
“Basically, they are proposed findings. It was not complete and they left out a lot of information,” Buchanan said.
On the issue of borrowing from Social Security to pay pensions, Buchanan said the board was informed of the transfer of funds. She believes she has full authority to make those transactions.
The audit report finds the County Clerk and Recorder’s Office lacks a sufficient process to ensure compliance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act mandate. Some of the FOIA requests in the audit deal with the issue of undocumented mileage paid to Buchanan.
“I answered FOIA. A board member and the chairman refused to pick it up,” Buchanan said.
She is adamant that she has done nothing wrong, adding that she has sought the opinions of friends who are attorneys, retired judges and other county clerks who have agreed with her.
Buchanan is looking into misappropriations by the county board over past several years.
“We have a rogue board. They are the ones operating outside their authority,” Buchanan said.