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Neighorhood Council Responds to Audit: Part 1

The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council held a special meeting on Saturday morning to respond to a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment audit of its finances. The following is the first of two stories that recap the lengthy meeting.

With a Dec. 16 budget freeze deadline looming, the met on Saturday morning to prepare a response to a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) audit of its finances.

, DONE had initiated an audit of the neighborhood council in October after an independent review of "purchase card expenditures" and "questions received from the board" indicated that "multiple transactions [were] conducted without the approval of the board."

A copy of DONE's Oct. 26 letter notifying the neighborhood council of the impending audit can be downloaded from the media box on the right.

During a nearly three-hour-long discussion, the council debated a lengthy reconciliation of 2010/2011 expenditures conducted by new Treasurer Judy Knapton and attempted to responded to questions raised by DONE regarding an inventory of board equipment and animal welfare related expenditures.

The council eventually voted in favor or providing answers to DONE's questions, but not before the meeting took a contentious turn, with former Treasurer Mark Legassie accusing some of his fellow council members of conducting a “witch hunt” and holding meetings behind his back.

Reconciliation Report Disputed

Saturday's meeting began with Knapton presenting a 22-page reconciliation report that attempted to square funding requests approved by the board with actual demand warrant and purchase card payments reported on DONE's website.

Knapton's reconciliation report indicates that dozens of council expenditures ranging from medical care for stray animals, food for committee meetings and tutoring supplies were made by council members without approval.

Knapton's report can be downloaded from the box on the right.

The council approved the summary, noting DONE's looming Dec. 16 deadline, but not before a spirited discussion regarding what kind of expenditures actually require approval

Council Member Joseph Riser contested the findings in Knapton's report, saying that the 80 percent of unreconciled expenditures did not require approval by the board, as they were authorized within the council's overall budget.

“This is the first time a treasurer has come to us and, I think, misunderstood the rules and said we have to pre-approve everything, in advance,” Riser said. “It's not possible. It's like saying that I can't go buy a stapler to compile records because I have to wait to go before the board to get approval and then wait 60 days for the money to go through.”

Riser added that “about 80 percent” of the allegedly unreconciled purchase card expenditures were approved during reports given by former Treasurer Mark Legassie at council meetings in January, February and May.

“Judy, both you and I were at meetings in January, February and May, as were most of the other board members,” Riser said. “Mark [Legassie] handed out purchase card forms for about 80 of the 100 items that are not highlighted. He asked us to approve them, and we approved them. How can you say they were not approved?”

Knapton responded, saying “the board has not acted on them, they are not reflected in the minutes.”

Riser volleyed back, saying “I'm looking at the minutes right now. I'm reading them. What did you think were you approving when you raised your hand and voted for them.”

Board President Martha Benedict said the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that board members assumed the items in the reconciliation report had already been discussed by the board.

“I think the confusion stems from the fact that we thought we were voting on item that had already been discussed by the board,” Benedict said.

Purchase Card Expenditures Not Approved

Also up for debate by the board were three month's worth of unreconciled purchase card expenditures from April through June, and oversight Legassie blamed on Knapton.

Like Riser, Legassie argued that 80-percent of the unreconciled expenditures in Knapton's report were approved by the board, he admitted that he had not presented a reconciliation report for expenditures for the months of April, May and June.

Legassie, however, said that Knapton had assumed the role of treasurer in June, and was responsible for providing the missing reconciliation report.

“I was out in May and June, Judy [Knapton] took over at that point, and they never showed up,” Legassie said.

Following the meeting, Legassie provided minutes of a June, 2011 meeting which show that Knapton had conducted a budget and finance meeting and submitted a budget proposal to the board.

“Those are Treasurer duties as spelled out in the Treasurer Handbook as well as our Bylaws, and this handbook clearly states the Treasurer assuming those duties are bound to follow them,” Legassie said.

A copy of the ASNC's June minutes can be found in the media box on the right.

Knapton would not respond to Patch's request for comment, but said during the meeting that her duties as treasurer did not commence until July 1.

“I wasn't the treasurer in June,” Knapton said. “I was a board member like everybody else.”

Alberto December 16, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Boards can be messy things. Joining one, one can be thrust into meetings and discussions without the benefit of any real orientation. Longtime members can take for granted that everyone is on the same page. All members, longtime and new, are volunteer and can be unfocused at times - sometimes on an night where focus is actually required. I think the best you can hope for is that someone will, every now and again, actually check through things and reveal issues in past practices and/or practice in general. This can give everyone an opportunity to work to correct any issues, clarify or tweak policies and procedures, and move on satisfied that they've caught things internally and worked to correct them. Unfortunately, what can happen in Boards mirrors what we see between politicians, educational leaders, and other adults: people get embarrassed, people get defensive, and, instead of acknowledging issues/confusions/mistakes and getting to work, the work stops so adults can finger-point and rail against those attacking their reputation. REPUTATION becomes paramount to service and everyone loses, no one saves face. Sounds like Knapton took her job serious, reviewed files and, issued a report. People made more of the report than they should have but, instead of just going back through and clarifying and/or correcting and/or acknowledging errors and/or mistakes, members will blame and argue. Try just acknowledging no one intended harm and correct the documentation issues.

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