Second audit ordered

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 18, 2005

WINDSOR – For the second time this year, the financial books of the Bertie County Public School system will be audited.

Meanwhile, Rick Harrell, Chairman of the Bertie Board of Commissioners, issued a stern statement concerning the new audit. It was the Commissioners who, earlier this year, ordered a $50,000 audit of the school system.

Since the April release of that audit, one performed by MGT of America, Bertie County citizens have been very vocal over the issues of the school system's finances.

In a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon, Rev. Gary Cordon, Chairman of the Bertie Board of Education, confirmed the board had approved hiring an independent auditor to work with Tharrington & Smith, attorneys to the board, from where a complete, in-depth financial investigation will be conducted.

In the press release, one coming through the offices of Tharrington & Smith in Raleigh, information was made official concerning a special called meeting on Aug. 9 by the Bertie Board of Education. There, upon a request made by newly appointed Bertie School Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, the board unanimously approved a motion entered by board member Gloria Lee to hire an independent auditor to work in conjunction with the board attorneys to conduct an investigation into the issues raised by the (MGT) financial audit as well as the subsequent issues raised as a result of its initial review of the records produced in response to those requested by the Commissioners.

Additionally, the press release addressed the transfer of the investigation from Dr. Collins-Hart to the attorney in order for the superintendent to concentrate her time and energy to the opening of the 2005-06 school year.

"As part of the investigation involves personnel issues, these matters are designated under state statutes (115C-321) as confidential personnel information," according to the press release. "As such, neither the Board, the superintendent, nor any other employee of Bertie County Public Schools is at liberty to discuss any specific information regarding these matters while the investigation is on-going. Information will be shared at the conclusion of the investigation as appropriate and as permitted under state law."

The first audit contained numerous recommendations that could save Bertie Schools an estimated $7.7 million over a five-year period.

Following that report, issues were raised concerning questionable credit card expenditures made by Bertie Public School administrators. There was also a question raised over several contracts, each given to a county schools employee who operates a janitorial service as a secondary profession, for carpet cleaning and work to the gym floor at Bertie High School. Those services amounted to over $10,000 over a three-year period (2003-05).

In late June, Harrell questioned then Bertie School Superintendent John F. Smith Sr. concerning a $100,000 house on White Oak Road the School Board apparently approved for construction. Holding the &uot;If your differences with me are to blame, then my term will soon end,&uot; Smith said. &uot;That issue will no longer be a problem.&uot;

Rick Harrell, chairman of the Bertie Commissioners, responded to Smith.

&uot;This Board is fully responsible to the citizens of Bertie County,&uot; Harrell noted. &uot;The opportunity we have to fund taxpayer’s money to the students of this county comes from the information you provide. We are not in the business of running the school system, that’s not what we are elected to do. We are about spending money wisely.&uot;

Harrell then placed each of the previous three years worth of budget requests from the Bertie School System on the table before him.

&uot;There’s nothing I see in each of your last three budget requests that covers $100,000 for a house on White Oak Road,&uot; Harrell noted. &uot;Mr. Smith, your comments make it sound like we are taking money away from the students of this county. Other than doing away with the eight cell phones (used by county educational administrators) as recommended by the audit report, I see nothing as far as any other savings in your budget request.&uot;

Since the release of the MGT audit as well as in regards to the allegations of credit card misuse, the Bertie Board of Commissioners have made several attempts to retrieve financial information from the central office of Bertie Public Schools.

"In recent weeks, we've been placed in a position to answer a lot of questions," Harrell said at the conclusion of Monday night's Commissioners meeting in Windsor. "Some of those questions cannot be answered because we are still in the process of obtaining financial information from the school system."

Saying he felt obligated to the tax-paying citizens of Bertie County, Harrell read the following statement into the record:

"The County Commissioners have been told by the attorneys for the Bertie Board of Education that, because of the concerns the County Commissioners have raised and concerns of the Board of Education about financial matters within the school system, the Board of Education is employing an independent auditor to work with the Board of Education's attorneys to conduct a complete, in-depth financial investigation."

Harrell continued, "We have been assured that this investigation will be thorough and swift. We anticipate at least preliminary information soon and shall continue to monitor the situation and to voice our concerns. If action and information is not forthcoming, the County Commissioners shall take other appropriate actions."

When asked to define what type of actions, Harrell responded, "To use whatever means necessary to obtain the information we are seeking."