March 5, 2013 — The issue of transparency in financial disclosures took up much of last week’s Lassen County Board of Supervisors meeting. The public has a right to know the who, what, where, when, why and how its money is being spent by governmental agencies and other groups who use the public’s money. And those governmental agencies and entities that spend taxpayer money have an obligation to completely report on their activities.
The supervisors received a report from Carmen Wilson, a partner with the Marcum accounting firm for the county’s books for the year ending June 30, 2012. The audit firm issued a “clean” audit report and told the board the county’s books were in order.
Lassen County District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman commented on the auditor’s findings and on a frequent assertion by some county residents and local dissidents that county government is rife with corruption. Chapman quipped — at least for the year covered by the audit report — the county is transparently corrupt.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines corruption as: impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle; decay or decomposition; inducement to wrong by bribery or other unlawful or improper means; and departure from what is pure or correct. Nothing in Wilson’s report suggests any form of corruption by the county government — despite the stubborn allegations by some local residents.
In fact, the audit report, spanning more than 150 pages of financial data and opinions from the accounting firm, declares “in all material aspects” the financial data presented by the county was “in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”
Second, nearly a year ago Lassen County forester Philip Nemir asked a number of questions regarding a proposal for funding from the Lassen County Fire Safe Council. Despite its name, the fire safe council is a nonprofit entity that provides fire reduction treatment and educational programs in Lassen County. It is not a part of county government.
The fire safe council also presented an independent auditor’s report of its books for the year ending June 30, 2012. The report, prepared by the accounting firm McSweeney and Associates, found “the schedule of expenditures of federal awards is fairly stated in all material respects in relation to the financial statements as a whole.”
Still, the board asked the fire safe council to provide more specific data to the public — details rather than totals, for example.
Tom Esgate, manager, reported the fire safe council’s economic activity over the past 11 years totaled nearly $13.7 million and that nearly 20,000 acres have been treated or restored to date.
He said much of the information sought by the board is included on the fire safe council’s website and other information such as tax returns is already a matter of public record for anyone who wants to see it.
Chapman suggested that information should also be on file with the county so it would be available to any resident who had questions about how the public’s money was being spent.
And finally, the board also heard a report on how the county’s tort and workers compensation claims are handled.
We applaud these revelations and hope the governmental agencies and other entities that use or spend public money will reveal as much information as possible regarding their activities.
It’s the people’s money. It’s the people’s business. We both deserve and need to know.
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