Strausser: Clausi's call for her resignation is spiteful
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Prothonotary Kathleen Strausser believes Commissioner Vinny Clausi's call for her resignation due to findings in a years-old auditor general's report is nothing more than another spiteful political maneuver to smear her reputation before she retires at the end of the year.
The report, signed by Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale on Jan. 4, covers the period from Nov. 21, 2006, to July 31, 2009, and cites eight findings, six pertaining to the prothonotary/clerk of courts and two to the adult probation department.
The report was released earlier this month and Clausi said he received a copy of it Friday.
The commissioner chairman characterized the prothonotary's office as a "disaster." Clausi said he asked Strausser to resign "for the simple reason to get someone in there to straighten out the mess."
Clausi said the finding of bank deposit slips not being validated also was cited in two separate auditor general reports from 2005 and 2006 during the term of Suzanne Vastine Smith, who held the office prior to Strausser. In each case, the response from the prothonotary's office was that the issue was corrected, and yet it has repeated itself in a third report, Clausi said.
He said the number of deficiencies cited rose from one to three in the two earlier reports, and now to eight during Strausser's time in office.
Strausser said she knew about the findings in the report long before it was signed by the auditor general and reacted immediately to address the findings. She addressed some of the issues during an exit conference in her office with an auditor Jan. 4 and presented her responses Jan. 18.
The prothonotary received the report Friday via e-mail from the auditor general's office.
"Whenever an auditor makes me aware of a finding, measures are taken to correct it right away," she said. "These findings go back to 2006 and all of them have been corrected. This is just another way for Mr. Clausi to criticize my office. We are under staffed, but my employees do an excellent job despite having extra duties thrown upon them. Mr. Clausi has no idea how our office operates."
Strausser said she notified her solicitor, Attorney Roger V. Wiest II, about the findings, but saw no need to contact other county officials. "We've never contacted county officials about audit findings since I started working here in 1991. Why would I do it now?"
The following is list of findings in the audit:
- Misappropriations of funds (prothonotary).
- Bank deposit slips not validated (clerk of courts/prothonotary).
- Inadequate user names and passwords (prothonotary).
- Inadequate segregation of duties (prothonotary).
- Improper stale (old) check procedures (clerk of courts).
- Inadequate accountability over funds held in escrow (clerk of courts).
- Remittances received by the adult probation office were not always issued a receipt (adult probation department).
- Inadequate internal controls over manual receipts (adult probation department).
In the report, the auditor general recommends the prothonotary and adult probation department implement adequate internal controls to correct the problems.
The report revealed that former deputy prothonotary Annette Gurba used the refunded receipts function on the computer system to misappropriate funds. By issuing a refunded receipt, it created an entry into the computer system as if the money was not collected. The cash collected from the refunded receipts totaled $640.
Gurba pleaded guilty May 23, 2011, to a misdemeanor of theft by deception and was sentenced to three years probation.
Strausser said full restitution in the case has been recovered. She said a refunded receipt report is generated each month and checked and initialed by her. She said there has been no evidence of any refunds being discovered since 2009.
Validated deposit slips
An examination of the clerk of courts' accounting records disclosed that the office copy of the bank deposit slip was not validated by the bank in all 65 deposits tested. The report states the clerk of courts office was not aware of the internal control weaknesses caused by not obtaining a validated deposit slip or deposit ticket from the bank.
Strausser said once the issue was brought to her attention, the office obtained a validated deposit slip for all deposits made in each bank account.
The auditor general's recommendation was for the office to obtain a validation from the bank as to the mix of cash and checks deposited. The report further recommended that the validation is reconciled to receipts by someone other than the person preparing or making the deposit.
Strausser believes unnecessary steps were requested by the auditor in validating deposit slips, but she still had her staff correct the finding.
User names, passwords
The report also disclosed that user names and passwords were identical for each user in the computer system in the prothonotary's office. The passwords were not changed from the inception of the computer system on March 1, 2009, to the end of the audit period.
The report states that the condition existed because identical users names and passwords were originally established during training and were not changed.
Strausser said she was never aware that employees were told to use identical user names and passwords, which allowed Gurba to get into the receipts and docketing. Since July 2009 when the misappropriation of funds was discovered, the employees were instructed to never give out their passwords and to change them in the computer system regularly.
The report disclosed that one employee in the prothonotary's office was responsible for collecting cash, entering collection information into the computer system, issuing receipts, preparing deposit slips, making refunded receipt transaction adjustments, making voided transaction adjustments and summarizing accounting records.
The auditor general said the condition existed because duties involving the handling of cash and maintaining accounting records were not rotated daily.
Strausser said after the misappropriation of funds were discovered in July 2009, she met with the trainer and the application and system engineer to review procedures. She said the entire procedure for voiding a receipt and other functions was changed. Since July 2009, each day's balancing is rotated and every employee must sign off on all voided receipts and make sure there aren't any refunded receipts each month. Strausser also balances each month and does all of the reports.
An examination of the clerk of courts' checking account disclosed that the office was carrying 55 outstanding checks totaling $2,465 date from Aug. 1, 2008, to Jan. 6, 2009, that were still outstanding as of July 31, 2009.
The auditor general recommended that the office establish and implement a procedure to determine if there are any outstanding checks. If checks remain outstanding and attempts to contact payees after 90 days are unsuccessful, the office should reinstate the amount of stale (old) checks to the checking account and subsequently hold the monies in escrow for unclaimed escheatable funds.
Strausser said the 55 outstanding checks were stale dated and either escheated or reissued prior to Feb. 2, 2010.
The audit also disclosed that there was inadequate accountability over funds held in escrow in the clerk of courts office. As of July 31, 2009, funds on hand exceeded recorded obligation in the checking account by $2,750.
The auditor general recommended that the office attempt to identify the existing cash overage and said any unidentified funds should be accounted for under normal escheat procedures. Furthermore, the auditor general recommends the office ensure that reconciled cash equals unpaid obligations monthly.
Strausser said monthly reconciliations have been performed monthly and escheats were done routinely since she was instructed on how to conduct the operation.
Adult probation department
For the period Jan. 1, 2009, to July 31, 2009, the auditor general's office traced two treasurer office's payment journals for the adult probation department back to the adult probation department's receipts journal. Of 184 payments listed on the treasurer's payment journal, the audit found that only 153 payments listed in the adult probation receipts journal had receipts issued. Therefore, the auditor general's office found that 31 payments were not issued a receipt.
The audit also revealed that there were 48 instances in which the computer receipt was not generated timely after the issuance of the corresponding manual receipt. The time lapse from the date of the manual receipt to the corresponding computer receipted ranged from two to 21 days.
The exam found that all 54 receipts were not issued in numerical sequence and that the adult probation office used pre-numbered receipt books that contain 300 receipts. The audit found that the 20 receipt books used by the office did not run in consecutive numerical sequence and therefore, the auditor general's office couldn't determine a total population of receipts.
The report also states that a manual receipt log was not maintained and a manual receipt number was not entered into the computer system when the corresponding computer receipt was generated for all 54 receipts tested.
The recommendation is that receipts are issued for all payments collected by the adult probation department and that internal controls over manual receipts are implemented.
In his response to the findings, former Chief Adult Probation Officer John D. Wondoloski, who resigned in late June, said all responsibility for criminal costs collections were transferred to the adult probation department's cost collection office in June 2011. He said collections are now made directly to the collections office and are immediately entered into the CPCMS system, with a receipt being generated and issued. He said no monies are collected by probation officers and no manual receipt system is in use any longer by the probation office except for that system inherent in the CPCMS system for manual receipting. All monies are deposited daily to the bank.
Michael Barvitskie was appointed chief probation officer July 15 in conjunction with the restructuring of the juvenile and adult probation departments.
Strausser pointed out that she recommended several years ago that the adult probation department be audited since probation officers were bringing cash into her office that they obtained from defendants as restitution for their crimes.
The auditor general will determine if all his recommendations have been met during the next examination in a couple years.
Related to salary cuts
Strausser said Clausi's call for her resignation falls in line with the commissioners' decision on Sept. 4 to cut their own salaries and those of the county coroner, prothonotary, register and recorder, sheriff and treasurer by 42 to 48 percent. The office of controller was left unscathed.
The commissioners also agreed at the same meeting to increase row officers' health care contributions to 50 percent.
But the affirmative votes by Commissioners Clausi and Stephen Bridy and negative votes by Commissioner Richard Shoch on the salary cuts and health care increases were later considered null and void because of language in advertisements announcing the event as a hearing rather than a special meeting.
The changes were scheduled to become effective after the next election for each respective office.
Solicitor Frank Garrigan said a new vote on both issues will be taken at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at the administration center.
Under the county code, Garrigan said the commissioners have the authority to cut the salaries in a calendar year in which they are not to be elected. He said the salary cuts do not have to be made before the nominating petition deadline for county office. The solicitor also said the salary reductions don't have to be approved by the salary board because that board only applies to county employees, not row officers.
County officials said Tuesday the language included in the public notice had caused rumblings amongst the row officers and others who found it flawed. That led to further rumblings of lawsuits.
The following are the changes to salaries and health benefits for county row officers that were approved Sept. 4 and since nullified (position; current and reduced salary and reduction percentage; who's serving; year new salary is effective, which follows the election for each respective office):
- County commissioners: $61,000 to $31,500; 48.4 percent;; Stephen Bridy, Vinny Clausi and Richard Shoch; 2016.
- Coroner: $53,834 to $30,500; 43.4 percent; James F. Kelley; 2014.
- Prothonotary: $57,396 to $31,000; 46 percent; Kathleen Strausser; 2014.
- Register and recorder: $57,396 to $31,000; 46 percent; Mary Zimmerman; 2014.
- Sheriff: $53,834 to $31,000; 42.5 percent; Chad Reiner; 2016.
- Treasurer: $53,834 to $31,000; Kevin Gilroy; 2016.
- Controller: $56,676; unchanged; Tony Phillips.
- District attorney: $172,270; unchanged (state sets salaries for district attorneys); Tony Rosini.
Health care: All elected officials would be required to pay 50 percent of the cost of health insurance beginning with their new term.
Single plan: $347.88 per month (up from $108); $4,174.56 per year.
Two-party: $694.32 (up from $175); $8,331.84 per year.
Family: $872.97 (up from $241); $10,475.64 per year.