CCSO and Sheriff Prendergast respond to recent Fire Service audit

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Inverness, FL—At the November 28th Citrus County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the findings of the Fire Services audit were shared with the public, and in an almost uniform fashion, the Board shared its disdain about the perceived lack of cooperation and transparency by the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.

In May, by a 4-1 vote, the BOCC voted to take back Fire Services from CCSO, assigning October 1 as a transfer date, and soon thereafter, approved and allocated funds for an audit prior to reclaiming the responsibilities of administrating Fire Services.

In a phone interview, Angela Vick, Citrus County Clerk of the Court and Comptroller, the constitutional officer responsible for such an audit request, stated that approximately $18,000 in taxpayer funds were allocated and spent on the audit which covered a period from October 1, 2015 to April 30, 2017.

During the November 28th BOCC presentation, and in his final audit report, Michael Carter, Principal of Clifton Larson Allen, LLP, stated that CCSO denied his auditing firm access to law enforcement General Ledger account activity and requests for vehicle and computer inventory lists were also denied. When Chairman Ron Kitchen asked Carter if he had ever experienced anything like this before, he said “no,” evoking strong negative reactions from all five county commissioners.

Carter also shared that he requested the law enforcement General Ledger account activity to verify MSTU expenditures and he needed the inventory lists to verify if cost-sharing ratios were appropriate with purchases associated with computer software, servers, and fleet maintenance.

Initial public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative toward CCSO’s decision to not fully comply with auditor requests for information as indicated by hundreds of calls and messages received.

The Standard sought a statement from CCSO and received the following from Lindsay Blair, Citrus County Sheriff’s Community Relations Specialist:

“The scope of the audit was for Fire Rescue only, not law enforcement, this was in the scope of the audit document.  What was said in the meeting is not true about us not providing requested documentation.  I will give you an example.

As part of the audit, we provided the auditors with a full transaction ledger for everything related to Fire Rescue for the period of the audit (Oct. 1, 2015 to 4/30/17).  Any expenditures that were allocated between Fire and Law that the auditor asked for documentation for, they were provided a full copy of the invoice in its entirety to show them 100% of the invoice – they simply couldn’t go into our system and pull the records themselves.

Also, we are audited every year on every single penny that we manage (including law, fire, every special revenue fund and all grants).  The audit firm is hired by the county and paid for by the county.  At the conclusion of the audit every year, a copy of the audit is provided to the Clerk’s Office.  For 11 years, we’ve had zero audit findings.  That is extraordinary.  As you know, this was never mentioned one single time in today’s meeting.

The reason for the rebuttal document is fairly simple.  We did not agree with these findings.  There were logical reasons for why things were processed the way they were processed.  These things were explained at length to the auditors. Overall, the public did not receive a true picture of how this process worked and worked well.  We had very few findings (six), all of which were explained.  The interlocal agreement stated the county could perform an internal audit every year of these processes, however, this was the first time an internal audit was ever requested.

Our normal annual audit begins [Monday, December 4th], which will cover the last fiscal year.  Normally, the results are ready in Feb. or March.  Feel free to request a copy.”

Citrus County Sheriff, Mike Prendergast, offered some additional insight, sharing with the Standard that he felt that the auditors overstepped their bounds and kept “changing the finish line.”

Faced with an annual December law enforcement General Ledger audit slated for December, Prendergast didn’t fully understand the logic behind utilizing staff during the Hurricane Irma preparation and recovery period to perform what he viewed as a redundant task when his staff should have been fully engaged in public safety operations.

At the end of the brief in-person meeting, Prendergast quipped, “I was just in Tallahassee as Sheriff for the Florida Constitution Revision Commission Conference. When I was there, people asked me where I’m from, and when I said Citrus County, they said, oh, don’t you mean Circus County? And, I’m not going to take part in the three-ring circus.”

This is a developing story and at press time the Standard is still receiving messages about the recent Fire Services audit from both residents and top-ranking officials alike.

Note: Pete Cuccaro, a contributing editor for the Standard, will be preparing a three-part series in our weekly newsprint edition starting this week called “Public safety should never be political”

Pete Cuccaro rose through the ranks of the Miami Dade Police Department.  Following his retirement from the County, he was appointed Chief of Police and Security for the Miami Dade School Board.  He is a past president of the Miami Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police, a life member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police having served on their adjunct faculty and remains a sustaining member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.  He continues his longstanding membership in the Florida Sheriffs and the Florida Deputy Sheriffs Associations.  He can be reached at petecuccaro@gmail.com

Submitted by Lou Newman, Publisher, on December 10, 2017 at 2:47 PM.

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