'Putnam County did not qualify as a low-risk auditee,' report states
State audit finds Putnam County Court Clerk Lewis Coomer's accounting system allows changes to previous entries without leaving a trail
By GEOFF DAVIDIANCOOKEVILLE, Tenn. [Dec. 7, 1999] - Putnam County Circuit Court Clerk Lewis Coomer's office used computer software that allowed users to "make changes to
Editor of The Putnam Pit
In addition, at least one indictment in Coomer's files was altered to include a second charge after the grand jury had refused to do so. One of the witnesses in that case was an employee of Coomer's office. Coomer and the employee called police on The Pit and its lawyer, Samuel J. Harris, who sought access to the altered documents under the state open records laws.
previously processed accounting information, but provided no audit trail of these changes," a state financial report says.
The internal control problems in Coomer's office come on the heels of reports that prisoners doing state time in Putnam County Jail had so-called "jailer's fees" added to their bills of costs at a time when the legislature had not authorized such charges.
Putnam County Court Clerk
"Without an audit trail of data manipulation, errors and improper changes could occur and go undetected," according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Putnam County covering the year ended June 30, 1998. The audit was conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Department of Audit, Division of County Audit. The absence of adequate safeguards is a "reportable condition" under government auditing standards, which "involve matters coming to our attention relating to significant deficiencies in the design or operation of the internal control over financial reporting that, in our judgment, could adversely affect Putnam County's ability to record, process, summarize, and report financial data consistent with the assertions of management in the financial statements."
The county budget anticipates revenue of more than $600,000 from Coomer's office this year, and he accepts only cash - no checks.
The audit does not look for culpability - it only provides an opinion on whether the county complies with requirements of the U.S. Office of Budget and Management to be eligible for certain federal programs and grants. It is up to county officials to correct deficiencies.
Tennessee authorities were poised to investigate Coomer's collection of jailer's fees two years ago after The Putnam Pit reported that Coomer was returning money to former prisoners who confronted him about the unlawful fees. But Richard V. Norman, assistant to the comptroller, said District Attorney General William E. Gibson concluded the matter was civil, not criminal, and called off the inquiry. Meanwhile, County Executive Doug McBroom, himself criticized for purchasing goods without bids, said he did not identify the sources of money deposited in the county treasury by the clerk's office.
Gibson refused to be interviewed about the matter because in his opinion The Putnam Pit "is not objective."
General Sessions Judge John Hudson declined to look into possible illegal collection of the jailer's fees by Coomer, explaining it was not his responsibility although Coomer is also clerk of the General Sessions Court.
Coomer, who has acquired significant real estate holding on his $50,000 a year salary, stated that Sheriff Jerry Abston knew about the authority to collect jailer's fees for inmates serving state time in Putnam County, but Abston denied this.
Among the audit's other findings:
- County Executive Doug McBroom's office purchased 71 computerized voting machines and a computerized election management system for $243,000 without soliciting competitive bids. State statute requires competitive bids for all purchases of more than $1,000;
- The County Executive's Office also did not have adequate control over inventory;
- The Office of the County Clerk did not have sufficient controls over automated Motor Vehicle Department title and registration financial transactions, allowing for possible "inappropriate system activity;"
- The Office of the Trustee had a cash shortage of $3,135;
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