What would likely have been a benign meeting a few weeks ago was front-loaded with a disclaimer from Buncombe County Attorney Michael Frue. “I just want to be clear: There’s been some news in the paper lately, there’s not going to be any discussions about any investigation the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a few weeks ago,” said Frue, referencing the ongoing FBI investigation into former County Manager Wanda Greene. That message came before a special meeting of the county’s Audit Committee, a group tasked with internal and external audit logistics and procedures.
New County Manager Mandy Stone is looking to put her stamp on the organization and possibly distance herself from previous standard operating procedures. Stone addressed the committee by stating she has different managerial philosophies than her predecessor. “What’s most different is I’m very much a systems manager. … The county manager should not control every decision and make those [decisions] in isolation,” she said. “It really should be about the manager’s ability to pull expertise from across the organization and use that balance. That’s one of the primary differences I bring.
“We do a lot of positive things … but I don’t think we’ve made it easy for people to see what it looks from a fiscal standpoint,” explained Stone, who referenced new transparency tools county staff is looking to debut. Those web-based efforts will, in theory, allow citizens to have access to real-time financial information. “When we get a request for information, we need to give complete and accurate information. Transparency builds accountability,” she said, adding “We have to get better at admitting when we might not have made the best decision.”
To that end, Stone is looking to free up the county’s internal auditor, Terri Orange. “The internal auditor should be able to go to whoever is appropriate without going through layers of bureaucracy,” explained Stone, noting the position will have direct access to key administrative personnel.
The Audit Committee also heard from the county’s chief finance officer, Tim Flora, about changes in the Tax Department. “There are inherent conflicts and risks being in the financial department. As we grow, we need to split responsibilities, split budget from finance; split internal audit from finance,” he said. “We need to better define the role of internal auditor and how it integrates with the organization.”
The county has an interim tax director in the wake of Gary Roberts‘ retirement but has also put a freeze on that position. County staff explained the long-term goal is to create two positions that would keep collections and assessments compartmentalized, a best practice recommended by the UNC School of Government.
“Having two roles separated can prevent potential conflicts. The assessor needs to not worry about the billing side. When one person does both, it can influence both sides of the equation,” added Dustin Clark, the county’s business intelligence analyst. Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners will need to approve the change.
Orange also laid out proposed changes to the Audit Committee itself. Chief among the proposed changes is a move that would have the internal auditor serving at the pleasure of the committee. “So I can’t be appointed or removed without committee approval. I will have a supervisor on-site, but I am also under the protection of Audit Committee,” explained Orange.
The other change would have county management extracted from the Audit Committee in favor of a second county commissioner. “The management team is responsible for designing and implementing the system of internal control that the Audit Committee is to oversee. Therefore, it makes sense to remove management from the body charged with oversight of management,” Orange told Xpress. The Audit Committee is slated to reconvene in the coming weeks to vote on the changes.
Meanwhile, in regard to the Greene investigation, the FBI has not stated what Greene is being investigated for or identified the “others” that are part of the probe. As of Tuesday, Aug. 29, the U.S. Attorney’s Office told Xpress, via email: “There’s no additional information I can provide regarding the ongoing federal investigation.”