Escambia County

Transition audit blasts Magaha

May 8, 2013

ernie lee
After she was sworn in as Escambia County Clerk of Court, Pam Childers engaged Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC to perform an independent evaluation of compensation practices and other internal control matters of her predecessor, Ernie Lee Magaha, who had been the Clerk since 1957.

The audit report was released today. It’s very critical of Magaha and his top administrator, Lisa Berneu.

From the Executive Summary:

1. On September 21, 2012, a “lump sum cost of living adjustment” effectively paid a bonusequal to 3% of each employee’s budgeted salary for the year ended September 30,2012. It appears that the statute provided by the Former Clerk’s staff member, Chief Deputy Lisa Bernau, as authorization for the Lump Sum COLA was out of date. The
amended statute (2011) does not contain a key provision that would allow the Clerk of the Circuit Court to provide extra compensation.

2. The Former Clerk enacted a change to the annual leave buy-back policy on September 10, 2012, after Mrs. Childers had defeated the Former Clerk in the 2012 primary election. The policy change effectively relaxed certain guidelines relating to the Clerk’s annual leave buy-back process and added a new provision that allows the Clerk, at his discretion, to allow for the buy-back of additional leave in excess of 80 hours. The Former Clerk did allow for the buy-back of additional leave during the transition period,and employees requested a total of approximately 9,000 hours of leave. A total of $251,349.05 was paid to employees for these hours. Included in these hours were several executive-level employees who each requested from 250 – 440 hours.

3. Section 129.06(5), Florida Statutes, states that “any county constitutional officer whose budget is approved by the board of county commissioners, who has not been reelected to office or is not seeking reelection, shall be prohibited from… expending in a single month more than one-twelfth of any itemized approved appropriation… without approval of the board of county commissioners.” Although there is legal uncertainty as to whether this statute applies to Clerks of Circuit Court, based on the level of routine expenditures and the Lump Sum COLA mentioned above, it is reasonable to conclude that the Former Clerk would have expended more than one-twelfth of the itemized approved appropriations in September 2012.

4. We compared the Escambia Clerk’s annual leave policy to seven other peer counties. It appears that the Escambia Clerk has one of the more liberal leave policies for its employees of the counties surveyed. The Clerk has the highest dollar amount of longterm and total compensated absences. Of the eight Clerks presented, only three, including Escambia, have cash specifically reserved for its short-term compensated absences. Only the Escambia Clerk has cash reserves for any of its long-term compensated absences.

5. On September 25, 2012, the Former Clerk authorized a “permanent COLA” to be given effective October 8, 2012. This permanent COLA gave a raise of 3% or 4% to employees based on their pay grade at the time. The permanent COLA was projected to increase annual salaries by $287,344.95 for fiscal year 2012-13. These raises were suspended by Mrs. Childers on January 8, 2103 pending further budget review and audit.

Here is the link to the report.

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  • jeeperman May 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    What a Joke,
    I am thinking Magaha has been mentally unable to perform his duties of the office for several years now and his #1 sidekick was running it all.

  • What a Joke May 9, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    This is so sad & disheartening. Why do we think that elected officials — like Hayward — are a better option than professional managers, and why did we allow one man to stay in this elected position for 56 years? Are we so enamored of the “good ‘ole boy” that we ignore the obvious? You know Magaha knew this was flat out wrong but he didn’t care. He wanted to reward his staff & screw over the incoming Clerk. In the process, he ruined his reputation, but he probably doesn’t care. He made out like a bandit, drawing his pension & salary for years.

  • Yikes May 8, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Magaha’s cognitive skills had deteriorated significantly in recent years. Bernau was running the show. I can only guess it was she who orchestrated the payout fiasco and the horrible behavior during the transition. It did not have to be that way but the Magaha camp chose to scorch the earth on their way out the door. Sad how the local media turned a blind eye to the debacle.

  • CJ Lewis May 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    The next City Council needs to hire this same firm to conduct a forensic examination of all bonuses paid to City officers and employees without approval by the City Council, specifically Section 9-3-24(5)(b) that reads in part, “No bonus shall not be paid to an employee unless specifically authorized by council.”

    This law was adopted by the City Council on September 9, 2010, more than eight months after the voter-approved Charter became effective on January 1, 2010. The amendment was put in place two City Councils ago to prevent abuse by a Mayor eager to calm down angry City officers and employees by giving them favors from the City treasury.

    We know that the Christmas 2011 $750 bonuses handed out to all 775 angry full-time employees, in theory because they “all” exceeded performance standards as measured by a bonus performance program that did not exist at the time the bonuses were given (if you believe City officers and employees), totaled up to $581,250.

    We have no idea what other bonuses Mayor Hayward has since given out in violation of State and City law. If you do not believe in constitutional government, Mayor Hayward is your perfect role model of an elected official.

    This City Council? They’re afraid of their own shadow. Expect them to continue turning a blind eye every time Mayor Hayward tells them to shove this or that State or City law where the sun don’t shine.

  • jeeperman May 8, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    If the end of term sore loser compensation things are/were the only thing found to be inappropriate, we should be grateful.
    Loser loser Mr. M and his minions could have done some serious damage being in control all those years.

  • Dave Perry May 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Reading findings like that is so discouraging…legal or not; the lack of ethical judgement and hatefulness is astounding. And it diminishes Mr. Magaha’s long service to the county.It confirms what many people think of politicians…no moral character. It’s shame. He could have gone out like a man…instead he chose a goat.