Without Accountability, Some Local Virginia Boards go AWOL

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By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — After Auditor of Public Accounts Martha Mavredes took office in 2013, she realized people were calling and asking for financial records of local authorities, boards and commissions the state didn’t have on file.

In fact, the state auditor’s office didn’t even have a comprehensive list of the so-called supervisory entities created by local governments in Virginia.

That, Mavredes knew, was a problem, and she’s doing something about it.

Through a new state audit, Mavredes’ team discovered the Virginia General Assembly has done nothing to demand audit reports and general oversight for the roughly 700-or-so supervisory bodies, bodies such as jail authorities and library boards that controlled a total of $450 million in revenue as of 1999.

Why use the year 1999? That’s when a previous state audit called for further accountability, a call it hadn’t repeated since Mavredes’ office issued its recent report.

“We believe there has been no change in the legislative process to create and oversee supervisory entities,” the recent audit found. “There are still no consistent, minimum or standard requirements governing audit or other oversight activity.”

As the state auditor’s office built its online presence, Mavredes said, officials “realized we cannot post what we do not receive, so we are trying to be more proactive in following up with entities that do not send in their reports, whether due to oversight or not having an audit done. It is difficult to know the current inventory of these types of entities, since some are created locally and we might not even be aware of them, and some may be created without an audit requirement.”

The reasoning behind the push for increased oversight from the state auditor’s office is simple. If an authority, board or commission is getting money from a state agency, has a possible impact on the state’s debt rating or could become a legal or financial liability, it needs to be held accountable.

State law allows local governments to create so-called supervisory entities, which really can be anything from a park authority to a soil and water conservation district. As state law stands, however, it isn’t clear whether those groups need to perform audits annually, or have any oversight at all. Groups that don’t have a clear requirement to report audits, and so do not, include the Potomac River Basin of Virginia and the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority, for example.

Mavredes will go before the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission this spring to report her findings and call for further accountability.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.

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