County stops telephones, data lines audit, letter writer says

Laurens County Council meeting of this Tuesday (Aug. 8) includes a 15-minute public comments time
TUESDAY'S AGENDA: The Laurens County Council will meet Tuesday, 5:30 pm in the council chambers, second floor of the historic courthouse in downtown Laurens. The meeting is open to the public under provisions of the SC Freedom of Information Act (as amended, 2017). Anyone wishing to address the council must register before the meeting starts. Agenda items are: month 12 financial report, reserves quarterly report, fire fund quarterly report, update on SpyGlass (telephone audit) project, re-appointment to GLEAMNS - public sector, Public Comments (15 minutes), comments from council members, and closed Executive Session to discuss an economic development matter.

UPDATE WITH TUESDAY AGENDA: Letter - Who’s Really Minding the Store? County Council Continues to Show Lack of Vision and Leadership

 

The editor,

When you think of wasteful government spending, what comes to mind? Plenty would respond with Washington, DC but you don’t have to travel that far to find examples of wasteful, actually unimaginable spending of taxpayer dollars. Yep, it’s happening right here in Laurens County, and you have County Council to thank for it.

If you haven’t kept up with it in the news or on social media, let me give you some background.  Jon Caime, County Administrator has been working hard since he started in that position in May 2016 to prepare an accurate budget. This requires understanding and accounting for each line item in the budget (novel idea, right?).

Months ago, Mr. Caime recommended that the County engage SpyGlass, (a data/phone specialist company that finds inefficiencies and savings in data and phone lines) to perform an audit. The telephone/data audit and other efficiencies have been discussed with and explained to County Council members numerous times throughout the past year. Companies like SpyGlass are paid a percentage of the savings they find, so there is NO additional expense. Such companies have been around for decades. I engaged several of them over the years, and it has always been a very worthwhile effort resulting in great savings that carried on for many years. It’s a “win-win” arrangement.

So what has transpired so far?  

On Tuesday, July 25th, 2017 at the regular Laurens County Council meeting, Mr. Caime  provided County Council with an initial finding in the external audit that is being conducted by SpyGlass. They have just started the audit and have already found a single telephone data line that had not been used since 1996 and for which Laurens County taxpayers have been paying $3,300 per month since then (almost $40k per year). That's 21 years taxpayers have been paying for a data line that wasn't even being used, totaling $831,600 since 1996! 

WOW, $831,600 of taxpayer money wastefully spent over the past 21 years! I’ll bet you’re wondering how that could happen.

It happened because no one is minding the store. There has been no accountability, and County Council has had a hands off approach for a very long time. And, Council members have rejected suggestions for solutions that arise outside of their own ranks.

It’s a pattern of protection and self-preservation.  Read on, it gets worse.

The phones and data lines are just an example of how much money is really being wasted. If we can continue to pay $3,300 per month for a phone line not being used for 21 years, you know there must be more!

After Mr. Caime presented the initial findings, Council members Joe Wood and David Pitts raised doubts about whether Mr. Caime had the authority as Administrator even to launch the audit! Yet, the audit had been discussed at countless regular County Council meetings and during many budget sessions for months, and there had been no objection by Council. In fact, Council has asked Mr. Caime to help our County find ways to improve efficiencies and cut costs after more than 5 years of deficits. So why would any Council member oppose a process that costs us nothing but is already demonstrating the potential to result in great savings? 

Ultimately, at the July 25th meeting, Wood and Pitts both objected to continuing this audit. They claim to have issues with how much the external auditing firm will be paid (remember, they only get paid a percentage of found savings), and now they are also saying that Mr. Caime entered the agreement with the auditing company without approval of County Council. Neither objection passes the smell test.

County Council asked Mr. Caime to find all cost savings possible, and he is working hard to do just that! Remember, the auditing firm is paid by the savings, and they also attempt to recoup money from phone providers. So, as an example, the $3,300 per month that they just found will go to pay the external auditing company for their service instead of the phone company for the fiscal year 2018 (which we are currently in). Beginning in fiscal year 2019 the county will realize a savings of $3,300 per month or $39,600 annually, just for this one item. 

Why would this not be a good idea when they have already found such a ridiculous example of wasteful spending?

But Wood and Pitts do not like the agreement. Mr. Wood believes that government employees can conduct internal audits and find the inefficiencies themselves. He expects the same people who have mismanaged these telephone contracts and other accounts for years to suddenly evaluate them and identify areas of possible waste. What a joke!

Instead, this is a strategic move to protect those who have been on Council for decades, you know, the ones who were supposed to be minding the store. 

Are you starting to see where this is going?

At the July 25th Council meeting, they voted to continue with the audit 4-2. Those in favor of continuing were Stewart Jones, Diane Anderson, Garrett McDaniel and Ted Nash. Joe Wood and David Pitts voted against continuing the audit. Based on this vote, the audit was to continue.

On Thursday, July 27th Ted Nash called Mr. Caime and said that he had changed his mind and was not in favor of continuing the audit. 

So at this time, the audit has been stopped. Let me say that louder.

SO, THE AUDIT HAS BEEN STOPPED. 

Council plans to take up the matter once again at the August 8th meeting, and I plan to be there. If you want to see the audit continue and perhaps have other areas of County management receive similar audits, then I invite you to join me at this meeting and let Council members know where we stand and what we expect from them.

Thank you, Mr. Caime, for working so hard to do your job, and for doing what should have been done decades ago. It is time for REAL transparency, and Laurens County Council needs to get with modern times.

Do you want to see the audit continue with real cost savings to be realized for the County? If so, please join me on August 8th at the County Council meeting.

Do you want to pay more taxes and continue enabling the blind leading the blind? Then stay home on August 8th and just get ready to give more of your hard-earned money to the County to be squandered on undiscovered waste.

This issue and others have put Laurens County back in the news, and not in a good way. Others around the state are looking to Laurens County to see how this unfolds.  Do you want to be part of the solution or just sit by and watch?

It’s time for the people of Laurens County to step up and mind the store.

 

Brenda Stewart

Laurens County Resident of 25 years

 

My Clinton News

P.O. Box 180
513 North Broad St.
Clinton, SC 29325
Phone: (864) 833-1900
Fax: (864) 833-1902

 

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