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State Auditor To Coventry: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

March 13, 2012

Vermont State Auditor Tom Salmon. Photo by Christopher Roy

COVENTRY – Vermont State Auditor Tom Salmon and Deputy State Auditor Joseph Juhasz told the select board Monday evening that the town needs better internal financial controls.
The biggest concern is that select board members don't know the answers that Salmon’s office says they should know. There are also concerns that one person handles all of the town’s finances. Salmon’s office discovered the weaknesses after sending the select board and clerk and treasurer Cindy Diaz a list of questions that had a yes, no, or I don’t know response.
“The reason we wanted, in essence, to find out what you don’t know is to find out later if it’s something that the town wants to know,” Salmon told the select board.
He said Juhasz contacted Diaz to clarify the internal control questions. “We didn’t have to contact the select board to find out what they didn’t know because they told us they didn’t know. That in itself was a huge red flag.”
“There seems to be a real shortage of best practices here,” said Salmon. A strong controlled environment protects the assets of the town and the reputation involved with its financial management.
Salmon and Juhasz do internal control training, conflicts of interest and ethics in government. They usually go to town government and ask if people feel there is a problem and, if so, do they want to fix it.
“It’s like bringing you guys a mirror and asking you, the select board and treasure, to look in the mirror and say, ‘Do we want to change some things here or are we satisfied? Do we need help and do we know the kind of help we want’?”
“At the last meeting, we said that we do need to get an audit done,” said Coventry Select Board Chair Michael Marcotte. “Put things behind us; let’s start going forward and making sure we get the town in a sound financial position.”
An audit might be more expensive than what the town needs, but is more than what Salmon’s office did. Salmon is concerned the select board will do nothing and be in the same situation a year from now. Salmon said Coventry, like many other towns, has serious problems that need to be addressed.
“We’re putting everybody on notice,” said Salmon. “You have to fix these things. You have to address these things in a professional manner because you’re a multi-million dollar town.”
Select board member Richard Lussier expressed concerns that Diaz stated in her answers to the auditor’s office that she didn’t have time to do some tasks.
“If you don’t have time to do something, why isn’t there time to do it?” asked Lussier, who suggested Diaz might need some extra help to do things. “Personally, I think we’re looking at both ends. How we can help her and how we can help ourselves.”
“There is no reason you shouldn’t have time to do something because we should make sure you have time to do what you’re supposed to do to do a good job,” Lussier said to Diaz. “There is some work ahead of us, but I think, working together, we can do it.”
“I don’t see myself as having problems because I am doing the same exact thing as the old town clerk did it, as I see it,” answered Diaz.
Town resident Ellie Ingram said that the town clerk prior to Diaz didn’t have a computer with all the information. “Just because it was done this way for 120 years, doesn’t make it right,” said Ingram. Ingram said Diaz isn’t doing anything wrong.
Salmon said his office would be willing to work with Diaz to learn more about the cycle of property tax payments from last year’s through this year’s delinquent taxes.
Salmon told the select board members it’s up to them to make a weak environment into a strong one. “My thing tonight was to try to strengthen the bridge between the treasurer and select board,” said Salmon.
Salmon's office came to Coventry on the request of the select board, Marcotte said.

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