Local News

County releases cell phone audit

SEBRING - A cell phone audit of Highlands County employees revealed that some are still making extensive personal calls, an unknown employee, and a retired employee whose cell phone showed activity, even though it was turned in
The random audit of some employees, released by Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine, showed the county paid more than $28,000 worth of cell phone bills for 76 employees. The number of county-issued phones has been cut in half since 2009, when the purchasing department and department director began reviewing how many employees actually needed cell phones to perform county business.
This is the 15th consecutive quarter for random audits conducted by Heather Woods, the clerk's director of compliance and internal audit, or her predecessors. Since then, texting features have been restricted, the audit said.
This audit found three employees had made more than 500 minutes of personal calls:
One totaled 55 minutes from January through March 2012.
A second totaled 115 minutes from July through September 2012
A third totaled 257 minutes from July through September 2012.
County policy occasionally allows personal calls, Woods wrote. “The County recognizes that there may be emergencies or extenuating circumstances under which the phone is needed for personal use. Those occasions must be infrequent and non-routine.”
However, she noted, “County cell phones are intended to be used for county business,” Woods wrote. “Management is encouraged to monitor reimbursements to ensure that excessive personal usage is not occurring…”
In response, the county revised its cellular phone policy that changes how employees reimburse the county for personal phone usage.
Woods found a second problem: a county employee “listed on the Facilities Department Nextel (telephone bill) was not listed as a county employee.”
She found the employee had been transferred to another county department, but retained the same cell phone. “Cell phone activity appeared reasonable and related to county functions,” Woods wrote.
The third problem was a county employee who remained on Nextel invoices for eight months after retirement. Projects Manager Chris Benson said the employee properly turned in his phone, but it was set on vacation mode.
“Department management is encouraged to review employees' names that appear on the Nextel statements,” Woods wrote.
In another instance, an employee submitted a statement which read, “primarily for the purpose of conducting county business. However, a document was not attached highlighting personal calls.
Review those statements, Woods encouraged the county.
Management concurred: “Cellular telephone statements showing a detail of cellular telephone usage are required to be reconciled by the cellular telephone use and sent to the department director.”
Finally, Woods noted, employees with county phones are required to submit a monthly statement, but one did not. Management concurred.
Woods also audited three Clerk of Court cash handling departments: recording, tax deeds and marriage licensing.
“The scopes of these audits are very narrow and are performed on an ongoing basis for the most recent quarter,” Woods wrote, along with random samples of daily activities.
During the fourth quarter audits, July through September 2012, almost $1.2 million was collected for official records, $85,000 for tax deeds and $11,000 for marriage licenses.
“For the period under review, no exceptions were noted,” Woods wrote.


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