City officials await audit from narcotics task force

August 16, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

The city of Westminster will not make any decisions about its continued participation in Carroll's narcotics task force until it is provided with a copy of an audit of the drug group.

At an often contentious hourlong meeting yesterday, city officials told the county commissioners that they were increasingly frustrated with the county's inability to issue an audit report to them and to the public.

"I don't see how as a city we can even consider anything without the audit report," said Kenneth A. Yowan, City Council president. "We need to know what it says."

So far, the only people who know what the audit says are those privy to a "draft" copy. The draft, prepared by Tim Hartman, the county's chief internal auditor, was disclosed to the commissioners Thursday.

A draft also was provided to State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman so he could prepare responses to the audit before an "amended" version is disclosed to the public.

The audit began in 1993 as a look at the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force's finances. The process mushroomed into a full-blown performance audit that critiqued all areas of task force activities.

Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo cited the growing scope of the review when he announced that he would no longer handle the drug group's finances, property, evidence and forfeitures.

That is at the heart of the debate between the city and the commissioners. Under the old arrangement -- in place since the task force's founding four years ago -- Westminster received half the proceeds from forfeited money and goods.

Now that the county is poised to take over most of Chief Leppo's responsibilities, the commissioners do not want to give the city a fixed percentage of the proceeds. But the city -- which still provides an officer to the five-man unit -- is balking at that proposal.

As Commissioner Donald I. Dell sees it, the fact that Westminster is the site of the drug group's headquarters should be reward enough.

"I feel the city is getting a really good break," the commissioner said. He said the commissioners provide money for the group and don't ask for any in return. "The results [in Westminster] are that we are getting the [drugs] off the streets."

The two sides appear close to a compromise, with the amount of money going back to Westminster the main stickling point. Under a proposed agreement written by Mr. Hickman, the Sheriff's Department will seize goods, the state's attorney will continue to file forfeiture suits and state police will maintain all seized evidence in a warehouse in Columbia, Howard County.

Mr. Hickman's proposal includes provisions for an annual audit by an outside firm at the county's expense. It also says the task force will make annual budget requests through the county, and the expenditure of seized and forfeited money will be made through the county. The proposal also calls for some contribution to Westminster for its participation in the task force.

Mr. Yowan was puzzled at the notion of a "draft audit." He said he understood an audit to be a document disclosed "with warts and all."

But, with the task force's audit at least, the county commissioners have provided Mr. Hickman with a copy so that he may rebut or clarify the report. After he has prepared his response, the commissioners will give the county auditors a copy, they will incorporate his reply, and a final audit will be prepared. Mr. Hickman said yesterday that he would give copies of the audit and his reply to task force advisory board members, who include Sheriff John H. Brown and Chief Leppo.

Mr. Dell was concerned about disclosure of any but the final audit: "If we open this up, we'll have half of Carroll County telling us what to do."

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