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State Auditor provides training to public servants

By Staff | Nov 6, 2015

County and city officials and employees, along with volunteers serving n boards and commissions, received training from the West Virginia State Auditor Thursday at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

Deputy State Auditor Ora Ash led a day-long seminar providing instruction in the area of ethics, open meetings laws, the use of Robert’s Rule and other information valuable to those serving on municipal and county boards and authorities.

Ash was joined by Shellie Humphrey, budget and finance specialist with the State Auditor’s office as well as several other staffer members. Humphrey presented a segment on ‘Internal Controls and Fraud Prevention’ offering guidance in ways to recognize potential fraud and to prevent it.

Humphrey said that the key to avoidance is awareness. She stressed that often fraud and theft occur because of provided opportunity as well as a change in and individual’s personal circumstances.

“It’s often not bad people, but people caught in bad situations,” Humphrey said.

Eliminating opportunity is a key element in avoidance of fraud. Have minimal cash on hand, if any. Don’t leave checks and signature stamps in the open.

“If it involves work to take something, the individual may rethink their decision of crossing that lines,” Humphrey said.

Officers and boards should have policies in lace on purchasing with checks and balances in place. These checks and balances should then be used and enforced or they won’t work.

Humphrey also explained audits and requirements for such within the state of West Virginia. Each board and commission is required to have an annual audit done by an approved independent contractor. A list of approved companies is provided by the Auditor’s office.

“It is not the intent of an audit to find fraud,” Humphrey explained. The audit, instead, examines the body’s financial statements with the goal of providing an ‘unmodified opinion’ stating that the board or commission’s “financial statements present fairly.” Other opinions can be given including ‘qualified’ meaning there are some fixes that need to be done all the way to ‘adverse’ which indicates major issues with the finances presented.

Taxable fringe benefits were covered in detail and surprised many in the room who were made aware that things like work clothes that can also be worn as street clothes are required to be taxable by the Federal Internal Revenue Service. Employees who wear such clothing items as polo shirts with the company or department name should be charged the tax through a payroll deduction according to information given by the IRS.

Exceptions to the tax on clothing would be police Class A uniforms or other clothing that is “specifically required as a condition of employment AND is not worn or adaptable to general usage as ordinary clothing.”

Humphrey said that stipends and awards are also taxable and pointed out that cash bonuses are illegal to give in West Virginia. While longevity or increment pay is allowed, it must be taxed and can only be given after the board of commission creates a policy to do so. It cannot then be a one-time thing, but must continue year after year.

Open meetings rules including the posting o times and agendas for meetings was also on the training schedule.

A video featuring Howard E. Seufter, Jr., with Bowles, Rice was used for that portion of the seminar. Seufer explained in detail such things as the use, and often overuse, of executive sessions and what constitutes a meeting of members.

Boards and commissions are prohibited from holding meetings outside of the public realm and when having been found to violate that rule, changes have been required affecting weeks or months worth of actions taken as a result of things discussed outside of a legal meeting.

Interestingly, Seufer said that executive sessions, which can only be used in specific instances to close a meeting to the public including the discussion of financial land or property purchases or litigation of a specific case do not have to be kept confidential.

“There is no law that says executive sessions are confidential,” Steufer said. “Information can be discussed but it is recommended that it not be.”

He stressed that boards must be very careful with the use of executive sessions that close out the public. A broad term such as “personnel matters” or “possible litigation” are not legal grounds for a private session and can lead to a legal judgment against the board or commission.

Thursday’s training was provided free of charge to attendees to educate them on their responsibilities, as well as the ramifications of those responsibilities. When sworn as an elected, hired or appointed official, one must comply with such things as the Ethics laws, the Open Meetings Act and the use of Robert’s Rules, another area shared during the day’s training.

For more information on any of these topics, individuals may contact Ash at 1-877-982-9148, ext. 5114 or Humphrey at ext. 5119.