A full and proper accounting

August 02, 1994

Since the completed audit of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force has yet to be released to the public, it is difficult to draw any conclusions about its findings. However, it is appropriate to comment on the protracted process the county went through to conduct what should have been a routine financial examination.

The purpose of any audit is not to root out irregularities. Audits are conducted to ensure that financial numbers are accurate and fair representations of actual transactions. When a corporation is audited, accountants examine, for example, whether documentation substantiates the company's annual sales figures, expenses, interest payments and profits.

Government audits don't delve into sales, profits and value of inventories. Instead, they determine whether the numbers in financial accounts are accurate. All government agencies are routinely audited because these financial reviews are an integral part of sound management programs. Audits are one way to verify that the public's money is properly spent.

For the task force to go four years without an audit is inexcusable. Even if there are no irregularities undercovered by this audit, it is not sound financial -- or public -- policy to ignore a government agency that is collecting and spending taxpayers' money.

For State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman to wonder why this particular audit took so long, he should look in the mirror. He used a number of transparent excuses to prevent auditors from having the full access they needed to complete a comprehensive audit.

A thorough audit doesn't just make sure that columns of numbers in ledgers and checkbooks add up correctly. An audit checks to see if there is a bill of sale for the purchase of radio equipment or that a $300 restaurant charge was a justifiable business expense. Thanks to Mr. Hickman's stonewalling, this audit took much longer than it should have.

Since the old agreement among the county, Westminster and state police covering task force operations is being revised, it would be wise to include a provision calling for a regular public audit of the task force accounts. Without these financial examinations, Carroll's taxpayers are not getting the full accounting they are entitled to receive.

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