It’s now official, with the latest release of the new county financial audit findings by the Oklahoma State Auditor, the last time Logan County produced a budget that met statutory or constitutional requirements was 2006. Ever since that time the county has received a reoccurring audit finding that documents the counties’ failure to follow statutory guidance in producing a compliant estimate of needs and annual budget. At my request this topic of annual budget preparation was added to the, 1 June, board of commissioners meeting and very briefly discussed. After strenuous objection to a new statutorily and audit compliant budget process by the county treasurer and county clerk, the majority of the board of commissioners decided to take no action and continue the previous process that continues to produce non-compliant financial statements.
Part of coming into compliance with state budget laws requires the County Commission and the County Excise Boards to understand and fulfill their separate roles as required by statute. A serial process is required by the state constitution and statute—that is, the two different boards having separate meetings that sequentially follow each. Individual and autonomous action by each of these two boards is essential in order to satisfy the constitutionally mandated checks and balances required of the county budget processes. Whenever there is an expectation of two groups providing fiduciary peer review oversight responsibility—one to the other—those peer group meetings should always be conducted separately, serially, in sequence, and in order of responsible action. This loss of financial oversight is a giant obstacle blinding our county citizen’s to these actions, further restricting their liberties and expectations of free and open access to all local government actions and decisions, good or bad. This continued avoidance of making critical budgets decisions by the board of commissioners will ensure that these important discussions concerning the balance sheet of our county will continue to be made out of the light of public scrutiny. Without this oversight the county most likely will continue to overspend (expenditures exceed receipts) an average of around 200K per year, repeated over the past 7 years of non-compliance.
Shortly after that, 1 June, commissioners meeting the county Clerk sent out a no-notice meeting agenda to hold another joint budget meeting including all county elected officials, the board of commissioners, and excise board on June 24th. Getting everyone in the same room all at once may sound like a good idea until you take into consideration that this is the very process has failed to produce the desired results since 2006. A really smart man once commented on the futility of following the same process over and over again expecting differing results. In this area it is becoming clear that, collectively, the current board of county commissioners is willing to continue to advocate their constitutionally mandated fiduciary oversight responsibility for all monies appropriated to the county to anyone willing to accept that responsibility. While it has yet to be confirmed, it seems likely that collectively, the county excise board will also continue to endorse this same broken processes as well. One can only hope that the exercise board will provide the collective spark needed to begin exercising their constitutionally mandated oversight responsibility, we will see.
It seems this broken process will continue to be orchestrated by those who contend that all of the county’s past financial problems are the fault of hiring several incompetent budget makers over the past 7 years. As you can expect there is no one elected official will take full responsibility for this failure to produce a correct county estimate of needs and yearly budget. The county clerk and treasure contend that the county budget is far too complicated for any elected official or board of officials to sufficiently understand and so we have no choice except to trust this budget maker who, much like the Greek Oracles’ of Delphi, seems to be held in high reverence, unquestioned, trusted explicitly, and expected to be all knowing and all seeing. So you see, they believe this is all the fault of unforeseen mistakes made by someone incompetent person the county hires to fill the financial numbers, proved by the county, into a spreadsheet provided by the state auditor’s office.
In the words of President Reagan, we must “trust, but verify”. I fear that until either the commissioners or excise boards accept their constitutional and statutory role in the yearly budget process, our ability to verify a correct county budget will take a back seat to a continuation of a failed 7 year experiment in outsourcing responsibility.