County moves to give internal auditor autonomy

Buncombe County’s Audit Committee hopes to give the internal auditor more freedom by having the position report to the committee rather than county management. During a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19, the committee unanimously approved the measure, which now must get the go-ahead from the Board of Commissioners.

County Manager Mandy Stone told Xpress the move is consistent with her management philosophy. “We want to make sure it’s a totally independent function. I think the importance of making sure the internal auditor has the ability to raise any concerns or issues or need for further review without any member of senior leadership either presenting obstacles or barriers,” she said.

The Audit Committee also approved removing a member of the county management team from the board in favor of adding a second member from the Board of Commissioners. “Any time a function is as important as this, having that redundancy… commissioners change and making sure we have more than one board member who’s knowledgeable and up-to-date on what the committee is doing is important,” said Stone of the change.

Terri Orange, the county’s internal auditor, added, “Since the Audit Committee is the Board of Commissioners oversight of management, it just makes sense management would not have oversight.”

Commissioner Al Whitesides currently serves on the committee; it will be up to commissioners to appoint a second member, along with approving the committee change.

The Audit Committee also voted to recommend that commissioners approve Committee of Sponsoring Organizations guidelines for the county’s accounting department. In short, COSO offers best practices for risk management and, in theory, is designed to offer more accountability and freedom for employees to address red flags. “We want all employees to feel safe to raise concerns or voice issues. We want to remove any idea management is a screen for those, or would be evaluating any of those, before it went to the internal auditor,” Stone said of the guidelines.

Commissioners will have to approve the COSO guidelines.

The internal audit protocol changes come amid an FBI probe into former County Manager Wanda Greene. When asked if any of these tweaks are related to the federal investigation, Stone told Xpress they are not. “I think all of it is more aligned with where I was going with a management perspective. Just trying to open up more communication and have a broader system approach,” said Stone.

While the FBI has not stated specifically what the probe is looking into, the agency has confirmed it is also looking at people in addition to Greene, while remaining tight-lipped about who those people might be.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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