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Some county audits ‘more complex’ than expected

Audits of county hiring and cash-handling practices should be completed in the next few months, Legislative Auditor Bonnie Nims said Thursday.

Nims is set to present her plans today to the County Council for future audits for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Meanwhile, she said, an audit of county hiring practices is taking a little longer than planned because of the complexity of the practice. At the same time, her office also is wrapping up an audit of cash-handling procedures at the county Department of Water Supply.

“Some of these audits are just more complex than we first anticipated,” she said.

County jobs are considered plum positions on the island, and as would be expected, account for many complaints levied against county officials. Nims said her office chose this area of scrutiny based on risk analysis and public complaints.

Approximately 2,600 of the county’s 190,000 people work for county government. More than 60 percent of the county’s operating budget is devoted to their pay and benefits, according to Deputy Finance Director Deanna Sako.

The draft hiring practices audit was sent to county departments for comment, Nims said. County Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“We will assess controls in place intended to ensure the fair, uniform and transparent selection of the best employee for the position and identify opportunities for business process improvements based on industry best practices,” Nims said in her summary.

The legislative auditor is hired by the County Council, serves a six-year term and can be terminated only for cause by a two-thirds vote. The mayor has no say in the appointment or removal of the auditor.

Nims took over the position in 2014.

The department completed just one performance audit in 2016 and one audit so far this year, according to reports posted on the audit report website. The auditor’s office also performs financial audits to meet various grant requirements.

The office also spent time completing a peer review, a process of evaluation to ensure better performance, Nims said. Government auditing standards require that the office undergo an external peer review once every three years to determine if the office’s internal quality control system was suitably designed and operating effectively.

Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter said she’s discussed the status of audits with Nims, and she’s awaiting audit reports.

“I’m anxiously waiting to see what caused the complexity, which should be stated in the audits,” she said.

On the agenda for the 2017-18 fiscal year are audits into overtime expenses, the county vehicle fleet and cash-handling procedures in the Mass Transit Agency. Nims also plans a followup audit on recommendations from a 2015 audit on county officials’ use of purchasing cards, known as pCards.

Nims said the audit process results in departments making changes as problems are pointed out, and issues are usually dealt with before the audit report comes out. She praised county officials for their cooperation with her audits.

“They’ve all been responsive to change,” she said. “Once they learn about something, they’re pretty corrective on it.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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