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     News Flash    Thursday, June 20, 2024
 
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Leflore County receives 35 fault findings in most recent county audit; Johnny Gary appointed Circuit Clerk

Tuesday, June 4, 2024, 3:53 pm News Flash Archive

Leflore County District 1 Supervisor Sam Abraham was astounded at yesterday's board meeting when the supervisors voted to appoint Johnny Gary as interim circuit clerk, following the abrupt resignation of the previous interim circuit clerk.

That's because Abraham and the rest of the board had just been given the much-delayed county financial audit for the year ending September 30, 2022. The auditors had complained about not being able to obtain necessary documents from county officials to complete the audit in a timely manner.

That audit listed 35 fault findings, instances where the county had failed to comply with either state law or mandatory accounting standards. Many of those violations fell at the feet of Gary, who was the chancery clerk, county administrator, comptroller, and board clerk during the period in question.

Supervisors Anjuan Brown and Sam Abraham argued against the move to appoint Gary as circuit clerk, with Brown stating that there had been no discussion about the matter prior to it being brought up at the last minute during the board meeting. Indeed, the appointment of Gary was not even on the agenda circulated at the meeting.

Referring to the county audit report, with many of its numerous findings of fault resulting from Mr. Gary's previous tenure as chancery clerk and county administrator, Abraham told the board members:

I'm not sure that y'all haven't lost your mind at this point, but how many offices do you want to mess up in this court house?"

The board voted 3 to 2 to appoint Gary as circuit clerk anyway, with Reginald Moore, Eric Mitchell, and Robert Collins voting in favor, and Brown and Abraham voting against the move.

The circuit clerk is responsible for all the circuit and county court files and records, as well as marriage records, and voter rolls and election activities.

The contentious discussion by the supervisors may be seen in the video of the meeting, beginning at the timestamp 41:21. Click here to watch the video: Leflore County Board of Supervisors, June 3, 2024

Of the 35 critical findings in this most recent audit, fourteen were repeat occurrences from prior audits in prior years. Luckily for the county, these violations did not change the bottom line of the audit numbers.

Many of the findings blame the Board of Supervisors for failing to comply with state law. However, most of these instances would have been the responsibility of the Clerk of the Board, who was Mr. Gary, and who was responsible to prepare the minutes of the meetings which document compliance with these state laws.

In finding #22, the auditors cited the county for failure to follow state law in the keeping and recording of the minutes of the Board of Supervisors:

Section 19-3-27, Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), states, "It shall be the duty of the clerk of the board of supervisors to keep and preserve a complete and correct record of all the proceedings and orders of the board. He shall enter on the minutes the names of the members who attend at each meeting, and the names of those who fail to attend. He shall safely keep and preserve all records, books, and papers pertaining to his office, and deliver them to his successor when required. The minutes of each day's proceedings shall either (a) be read and signed by the president or the vice president, if the president is absent or disabled so as to prevent his signing of the minutes, on or before the first Monday of the month following the day of adjournment of any term of the board of supervisors; or (b) be adopted and approved by the board of supervisors as the first order of business on the first day of the next monthly meeting of the board."

During the course of our audit, we noted the following instances of noncompliance:
Minutes for January were not approved until April
Minutes for February were not approved until April
Minutes for March were not approved until May
Minutes for April were not approved until July
Part of the minutes for May was not approved until September
Part of the minutes for May was not approved until October
Minutes for July were not approved until November
Minutes for August and September were not approved until December

The Clerk of the Board has failed to timely record and obtain approval for the minutes of the board of supervisors.

Failure to timely record and obtain approval of the minutes results in noncompliance with State law. Further, failure to timely record the minutes and orders of the Board of Supervisors could result in an inability to communicate the actions of the Board to the necessary parties.

We recommend the Clerk of the Board prepare, obtain approval, and record the minutes within the timeframe statutorily allowed.

The situation only got worse in 2023. In late 2023, the supervisors finally hired an outside firm to prepare the minutes, removing that responsibility from Mr. Gary.

The auditors also found that the county had violated the Open Meetings Act by going into executive session illegally on at least two occasions in 2022. In Finding #12, the auditors reported:

Section 25-41-7(3), Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), states, "(3) An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from open meetings by subsection (4) of this section. The reason for holding an executive session shall be stated in an open meeting, and the reason so stated shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used to circumvent or to defeat the purposes of this chapter . . . ."

During the course of our audit, we noted the following instances of noncompliance:
On 5/23/2022, an executive session was held to discuss "ARPA Funds"
On 9/12/2022, an executive session was held to discuss "Payment to APAC, Bridge #71, and the Claims Docket"

Public officials went into executive session to discuss topics that were not allowed by statute. Failure to adhere to the statute regarding permissible executive session topics results in noncompliance with State law as well as a lack of transparency. We recommend the Board implement controls to ensure compliance with regard to allowable topics for executive session.

Other violations the auditors noted include:

#1 - Annual inspections of the roads and bridges in the County have not been completed and/or attested to having been done.

#2 - A four-year road plan was not adopted and spread on the minutes.

#3 - The Board of Supervisors did not approve a list that specifies those individuals with authority to sign purchase requisitions and receiving reports for each department.

#4 - No board order has been spread to delegate the requisite authority to the county administrator to administer the countywide personnel system, and no board order or policy adopted lists the duties and authorities of the road manager.

#6 - $1,500,000 of the $1,640,478.82 in ad valorem taxes levied for Bridge and Culvert purposes was transferred to the Road and Bridge fund at two points during the year. . . . A transfer was made from the Road and Bridge Fund to the Public Improvement Bond Fund to cover a deficit of $134,089.57.

#8 - The Board of Supervisors did not advertise and bid out the county depository [the bank legally authorized to hold county funds] within the statutorily prescribed period.

#9 - The original budget for the fiscal year was not published in the newspaper.

#19 - Twenty-two (22) out of twenty-two (22) deposits [by the Tax Collector] tested were not made in a timely manner.

#20 - The Tax Collector is settling funds that are not yet available to be settled and unlawfully extending due dates for taxes due such that those penalties and interest are not being collected and properties are not available for auction in accordance with statute.

#21 - The Tax Collector had insufficient funds available on the date of the cash count to settle all outstanding liabilities.

#23 - The prior year's audit report was not filed with the board of supervisors. Auditors were unable to obtain proof of publication of the synopsis of the prior year audit.

#25 - During the course of our cash count [of the Chancery Clerk's Land Redemption Account], we noted an unidentified overage of $360,293.73. The system of internal control failed to ensure that a timely and accurate bank reconciliation was performed for the land redemption account.

#26 - The Chancery Clerk should strengthen internal controls over bank reconciliations of the Fee, Payroll Clearing, Clearing, and Mineral Stamp Accounts. Bank reconciliations were not being accurately and completely reconciled.

#27 - The Chancery Clerk did not properly maintain a fee journal during the year, and all receipts and expenses were not properly recorded to match the balances reported on the Annual Financial Report.

#28 - The Chancery Clerk did not maintain proper supporting documentation to support all expenses claimed. Auditors were unable to obtain supporting documentation for office expenses, contract services, travel expenses, and contract labor totaling $17,936.30.

#29 - During the course of the audit, auditors experienced substantial delays in obtaining items requested from the offices of the Chancery Clerk, County Administrator, and Comptroller. The Chancery Clerk [then Johnny Gary] is appointed as both the County Administrator and the Comptroller. Auditors began requesting information in advance of the audit as early as July 2023. As of March 2024, auditors were still awaiting critical information and documentation from these offices. The Chancery Clerk in his various capacities did not timely comply with auditor's requests for information and/or documentation.

#31 - Bank reconciliations were not being performed for the Criminal and Civil Accounts by the Circuit Clerk [then Elmus Stockstill].

#35 - The required monthly reports of credit card usage were not being prepared and submitted to the Board of Supervisors. The Purchase Clerk and/or Chancery Clerk are not filing the required monthly reports to the Board of Supervisors as required by State Law. The County is not in compliance with State Law, and this may result in the misappropriation of public funds.

Gary was finally removed as chancery clerk by the voters during the April 16, 2024 special election, after his prior election was overturned by a special judge, where the court found absentee ballot fraud and numerous election law violations had occurred.

Gary had sued to stop the special election, but the state Supreme Court ordered it to be carried out, and Gary lost that election to Debra Hibbler, who is now the new chancery clerk.

See our previous reporting here:

Judge overturns Leflore County Chancery Clerk and Supervisor primaries, new elections ordered between Hibbler and Gary, Self and Mitchell

The 2022 audit may be seen here: Leflore County Audit for Year ending September 30, 2022. The fault findings section begins on page 83.

For comparison, the 2021 audit, which reported 19 findings, may be seen here: Leflore County Audit for Year ending September 30, 2021

The audits were performed by the CPA firm of Bridgers, Goodman, Baird & Clarke, PLLC, out of Vicksburg. The audits were paid for by Leflore County, and then filed by the auditors with the Mississippi State Auditor's office.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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