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County audit committee to be among first in state

At the recommendation of the state comptroller, Washington County leaders are taking the initiative to establish a first-ever audit committee for the governing body.
“We are one of the first counties in the state to do this,” said Mayor Dan Eldridge during the Dec. 8 Budget Committee meeting.
At the meeting, members reviewed the second draft of a resolution to establish an independent audit committee for oversight of the county’s budget, finances and fiscal controls.
A formal recommendation will be made to the full Commission during its Dec. 20 meeting.
“I want to be clear that this is not a committee to audit the auditors,” Eldridge emphasized.
Rather, the comptroller believes the audit committee will be an effective tool to improve the operations of local governments in today’s environment of fewer resources and increased demand for transparency and accountability.
Though the establishment of such a committee has been encouraged by the comptroller’s office for many years, very few local governments have created one thus far.
“The state is encouraging it now,” said County Attorney John Rambo. “But the formation of an Audit Committee will be required soon.”
Commissioner Mitch Meredith proposed the committee be made up of two commissioners and three public citizens.
Meredith offered a list of candidates for the Audit Committee, all of whom he had spoken with regarding potential participation.
On a motion made by Mark Larkey and seconded by Joe Grandy, approval was given to the slate that will be offered as part of the recommendation to the Commission.
Serving two-year terms would be Paige Carter, an internal auditor with Mountain States Health Alliance; Odie Major, retired regional president of SunTrust Bank; and Meredith. Serving one-year terms would be Edwina Greer, East Tennessee State University director of internal audit; and Commissioner Pat Wolfe.
The one-year appointments were set to ensure staggered terms. Going forward, members will serve two-year terms and be eligible for reappointment for an additional two terms.
The Comptroller of the Treasury Division of County Audit describes the purpose of the committee as being established to provide independent review and oversight of the government’s financial reporting processes, the government’s internal controls, and a review of the external auditor’s report and following up on corrective action, and compliance with laws, regulations and ethics.
“It’s not a complicated thing, but it’s very important,” Wolfe said. “We’ve never had an arm like this to follow up on findings and recommendations from the auditors.”
The Audit Committee will also establish a process for handling confidential reporting by employees, taxpayers and other citizens regarding suspected illegal, improper, wasteful or fraudulent activity by the county government.
Qualifications for membership on the committee are: an understanding of the budgetary process; knowledge of the functions of county government; an understanding of accepted accounting principles and financial statements and the ability to apply such principles; and professional conduct befitting a representative of Washington County.