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Posted: December 4, 2016 4:00 a.m.

Our Thoughts: Audit, citizenry can be a tool for change

For those who even just pay casual attention to their local government, this week brought some big news to Newton County.

A forensic accounting report was released by David Sawyer, an accountant with Frazier and Deeter CPAs and Advisors, which provided insight on what he calls unethical and questionable financial activity within Newton County government for years.

This forensic audit was not a document written by a law enforcement entity, or a sentence by a judge. The document has already been turned over to investigative authorities and they will do their jobs.

This audit was a report from a hired professional consultant to examine specific areas of how Newton County spent its money. If these findings are indeed accurate, they really should be utilized to further examine and determine action.
Sawyer’s forensic audit has shined a light on what many suspected was happening. District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz told us she had a hunch of what was said in the report. District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said he wasn’t caught by surprise by some of the findings.

But Douglas was surprised by some of it. Another district commissioner said he was disappointed. Schulz said the document is a tool to help connect the dots.

This tool of an audit shows that some financial decisions were made without scrutiny, and attention slacked on some contracts and appointments.

We cannot have this.

We have seen some steps being taken by some of our elected officials. Changes have been made to purchasing policy, old contracts have been bid out, a new county attorney has been hired. That is not nearly enough.

Have you attended a local government meeting — and not just because something on that night’s agenda concerned you directly — but to learn about the decisions being made and how they are being made? It may be time to just start showing up so officials know that people are paying attention to what they are doing.

As a community, we need to advise our officials to do things honestly, even when the decisions are difficult.

And no, you probably can’t commission a $200,000 audit. But you can let your officials know you want more and that you expect them to know more.

Any community has its ups and downs. But the biggest ups are when our citizens are involved — voices heard through active participation. And the biggest lows are when citizen involvement dies off — elected officials become then responsive only to themselves and a chosen few in a very small circle.

This is not to say we are in a high or a low. The financial audit is a document of study and recommendation submitted by an outside consultant. We commend our current Board of Commissioners for seeking to shed light on areas that were grey at best and, in some cases, operating completely in the dark.

However, this is only one step.

How we respond to the underlying implications of this audit will be the bigger story.

And this is not just about the elected officials and government employees. It is about us, as a community.

We can no longer be the type of community that turns a blind eye to questionable behavior. This is not about whether one person is guilty or not. It is about a community that is either willing to sink in apathy or willing to lift itself up.

We choose to believe the latter. But in order to do this, we must do so together.

The financial audit paints a grim picture of the past. We urge our readers, our elected officials, our community leaders to look forward.

As with any mess or mistake, those that are left to clean up have a hard road ahead of them. We must work together, making the commitment to each other about the type of community we want to be. We must put aside our petty differences to find our common ground. We must stop looking at our neighbor to assess what he or she has that we don’t but rather if there is a way to help that neighbor.

Let us learn from the past in order to not make the same mistakes in the future.

 

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