Bell blames employees for late audit

WINNSBORO – Moses Bell doesn’t think the public should have been informed about why Fairfield County failed to properly submit a financial audit or how it spends taxpayer money.

“This was a personnel issue and I felt that it shouldn’t be in the public,” Bell, the council chairman, said.

Those remarks came in response to the county missing multiple audit deadlines, prompting the state to withhold currently over $1.5M from the county.

Bell blamed Brad Caulder, former interim administrator, for failing to file the audit on time.

The Voice was unable to reach Caulder for comment before going to press.

The chairman also bemoaned that email communications between Malik Whitaker, the current administrator, and council members about the audit predicament had been shared with The Voice newspaper.

Bell claimed, without evidence, that it was part of a smear campaign.

“This letter was given to The Voice newspaper, after Mr. Whitaker sent it, by a member of council in an effort to discredit mainly the chair of council,” Bell said.

In what appeared to be an effort to keep this information from the public, Whitaker wrote across the top of the email:  “Please note that these emails should only be between council members and Mr. Whitaker.”

Budgetary communications between the administrator and council members are, however, considered public records under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FOIA defines public record as “all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.”

Public bodies are defined as any group or agency supported in whole or in part by taxpayer money.

When the Voice publisher asked Bell in a phone interview about the Nov. 19 letter he received from the Comptroller General about the audit, Bell abruptly said he had to go to a meeting and the phone line went dead.

On Feb. 1, Whitaker informed council members via the county’s publicly funded email system that the annual audit was six months in arrears, characterizing it as a “mini-crisis situation.”

Whitaker forwarded a Feb. 1 email from the county’s auditor, Elliot Davis, that warned state payments to the county were in jeopardy, but Whitaker noted he was developing an action plan to complete the audit.

Warning signs, however, were evident much sooner.

Councilman Doug Pauley said Monday night that as early as Nov. 19, 2021, the State Comptroller General’s Office warned Bell about the deadline for the audit and enclosed a copy of the S.C. Code Section 4-9-150, which, Eckstrom wrote, “addresses a county council’s vital responsibility to assure that its county’s financial statements are audited each fiscal year by an independent auditing firm.

“This Code Section also requires the county to provide my office a copy of the annual audit report ‘no later than January first each year following the close of the previous fiscal year,’” Eckstrom continued. “Based on that requirement, the deadline will be January 1, 2022, for a county to provide the state a copy of its audited June 30, 2021, financial statements.

Pauley said the state followed up on Jan. 4, setting a deadline of Jan. 21 to file the audit, which the county missed.

“We didn’t hear anything on Jan. 4, and we didn’t hear anything on January 21,” Pauley said. “The council was not notified until the first week of February. That is the reason I called the audit firm.”

Bell confirmed receiving the Nov. 19 letter and Jan. 4 email. But he said completing the audit was a staff function, not a council chairman function, and that announcing the late audit and withholding of funds “would display the performance of our finance department leadership in public view.”

Councilwoman Shirley Greene, who previously criticized Pauley for inquiring about the audit, doubled down on her belief he overstepped. She, too, thought it was solely the administrator’s responsibility.

“I question calling an auditor by a council person and I will continue to question that,” Greene said. “It is not our role to call an auditor, ever. We are looking for an independent evaluation of our finances.”

Pauley, however, reminded council members that there was zero discussion of the audit more than two months after the state’s initial letter to Council Chairman Bell. 

“Council was not notified until the first week of February,” Pauley said. “That is why I called the auditing firm.”

Comments

  1. Marcus Polk says

    Typical Democrat / Liberal response: Blame someone else.

  2. Jeff Greenlaw/Ridgeway says

    It’s the last guy’s fault. It’s the previous county council’s fault. It’s not my job as a councilman. It’s not your job to ask questions of me. It’s none of the public’s business…..I see we county taxpayers got nothing in return for the taxpayer funded vacation, attended by the council, last year in Myrtle Beach. Despite Ms. Greene’s and Chairman Bell’s insistence they needed a trip to the beach to learn what a “council” does, it appears all they learned was how to deflect blame, shed responsibility and hide things from the public.

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