If Volusia County's internal auditor was made aware of an issue within a county division, could he pivot his attentions and look into the issue, without approval from the council or the county manager?
District 4 County Councilwoman Heather Post sought a clarification to this question after council unanimously approved the internal audit plan for 2022 at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 6. But the discussion quickly became muddled as some council members issued caution about "micromanaging" internal auditor Jonathan Edwards authority.
Post brought the subject up due to an undisclosed issue within the county's division of corrections' inmate trust fund activities that surfaced in October, an area that is included in the 2022 audit plan. The councilwoman said she wished to ensure Edwards would have the authority to look into issues that arise without having to come back to the council for approval.
But, council members were wary of amending the internal auditor's ordinance to add language to specify this, saying that Edwards already has the authority.
“We’ve got to be very cautious here that we’re not getting into micromanaging what we have given this man the authority to do," Councilman Ben Johnson said.
Edwards explained to the council that he does use his discernment when deviating from the plan, citing the audit into the county's economic incentive program that was at the top of the list for 2021, but was postponed since the Economic Development division experienced a lot of changes at the beginning fo 2021. In the instance referenced by Post, Edwards said that she came to him a day after she approached staff, and that he discussed the issue with the county manager. Seeing that staff was resolving the issue, he decided to focus on the areas in the 2021 audit plan.
This concerned Chair Jeff Brower, who questioned whether an auditor should go to management when he is notified about a possible issue to investigate.
“I’m not making any accusations but when we hired an auditor, that’s what the public wanted, was for none of us — me, or George or anybody else — to be able to jerk you around or lead you somewhere else," he said.
Edwards responded that to him, management acted in accordance to the policy, a statement echoed by County Manager George Recktenwald.
“I feel very confident that this organization is well-watched, well-managed, but with 3,500 moving parts, if somebody is doing something they shouldn’t right now, somewhere, it could happen and we’ll find and we’ll fix it,” Recktenwald said.
This led to a conversation on whether or not council members should bring areas of concern up to Edwards, to which Post argued that she didn't direct him to take any specific action.
“The fact that council is dwelling on the fact that it’s Heather Post that received this complaint from the public, a violation of Florida State Statute, and pursued it, I find fascinating, because that’s literally my role," Post said. "And the fact that I took it to staff to check into is literally my role. So, in no way have I gone above and outside of the scope of my role as a county council member, and for whatever reason, I’m having to say this once again on the dais.”
She added that she hoped all council members would be doing the same in her shoes.
Councilman Fred Lowry said he had an issue with the way the topic was brought up, as it could indicate to the public that there is a problem with the county's internal auditor.
“There’s not a problem in that area," Lowry said. "He has the freedom. He can pursue anything he wants to. While maybe certain people’s Facebook groupies tonight will be cheering them on, there will be a lot of people saying, ‘Why in the world are they talking for hours about [the auditor]? Is there a problem going on in the county with the auditor?’”
Post's motion died after Billie Wheeler withdrew her second. A later motion by Johnson to direct the auditor to work day to day under the county manager was withdrawn. In addition to inmate trust fund activities, the 2022 audit plan includes an audit of the county's charges, fees, assessments and collections; contracted services and concessionaire contracts; permitting and impact fee assessment and collections; Ocean Center box office revenues and settlements; airport booth rentals and incentives; and community assistance grants.