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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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Transition audit blasts Magaha

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provided by the Former Clerk’s staff member, Chief Deputy Lisa Bernau, as authorization for the Lump Sum COLA was out of date.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.