Public examiners have raised questions about the financial practices of Alabama’s statewide 911 Board, with a recent report suggesting previously noted concerns about incorrectly coded expenditures, improper travel charges and missing credit card receipts have persisted.
The board, which was established as it exists today in 2012, acts as a statewide counterpart to regional 911 providers like the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD). Its 13 members are appointed by the governor, but must reside in different congressional districts.
The representative for District 1 is Christine Heger, who is also the director of the Baldwin County Emergency Communications District. Lagniappe reached out to Heger seeking comment on this report but did not receive a response as of this publication’s press deadline.
The 911 Board’s funding comes from a statewide emergency service charge on all Alabamians’ phone bills — a fee it collects and distributes to local communication districts. On average, those fees generate $114 million to $115 million per year.
However, a report from the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts released in late December details an audit of the board’s finances between 2015 and 2018, finding several points of concern with how the agency is accounting for those public dollars.
In total, the report notes five current findings of noncompliance with applicable state laws as well as seven unresolved findings from prior audits the 911 Board has allegedly yet to fully address. Yet the board has taken issue with some of the examiners’ findings in its subsequent response.
Leah Missildine has been the 911 Board’s executive director since late 2015 when her predecessor resigned due to health complications and she was promoted from deputy director. Responding to the audit report, Missildine said there’s since been a significant shift in the board’s accounting functions.
“The board contracted the services of an outside CPA firm to handle all of its accounting functions for the time period of the initial audit,” she wrote. “The board ended its relationship with the firm, hired a financial analyst and brought all accounting functions in-house.”
Missildine blamed some of the audit findings on that transition and the board’s former CPA firm itself. She also noted the board has since had independent audits and reviews that found no “unresolved prior findings or significant issues.”
Still, the recent audit report notes several concerns with how employees used board credit cards and sought reimbursement for travel, mileage and other expenses between 2015 and 2018.
According to the report, the Attorney General’s office was notified of charges made against one former employee who spent more than $1,700 on “unallowable in-state and out-of-state travel expenses.” An official demand was made to repay that amount, but the former employee declined, then failed to appear at a meeting before the chief examiner to to explain why.
The former employee isn’t named in the report and generally, state agencies will not discuss matters involving personnel. Yet, findings of “unallowable” charges, improper travel expenses and overpayments are cited throughout the examiners’ recent report.
One prior finding noted that two board employees billed the “actual cost” of meals and lodging instead of the proper $75 overnight per diem on seven occasions, resulting in overpayments totaling $1,889. Another raised concerns about unallowable expenses charged to public accounts for things like upgraded airline seats, late checkout fees at hotels and “golf outings.”
Missildine’s response said some of those charges occured because the board’s previous travel policy “allowed for the actual costs of travel, meals and lodging,” though it has since been changed. She also said the board wasn’t previously aware its employees had to follow state law.
“Through the audit process, the board became aware its policy on travel was ‘contrary to current state law’ and employees of the board are considered ‘employees of state agencies,’” she wrote.
Despite the policy change, the recent audit still found issues with some of the same practices.
Auditors noted that, more recently, two board employees were again reimbursed for the actual expense of meals and lodging paid for during an in-state conference. The result was $1,839 of additional expenses, though one employee has since reimbursed the board $245.
Another area of concern were credit card purchases submitted without itemized receipts. During the recent examination, “95 [credit card] charges totaling $6,137.03 had no itemized receipt or invoice attached.” In a previous unresolved finding, auditors noted 86 charges totaling $6,664 that similarly had no attached receipt.
According to Missildine, the reconciliation of the board’s credit card statements was formerly handled by the outside CPA firm as well. She said the board has previously voiced concern about how the records were maintained during the transition to its in-house accounting operation.
“It was the board’s understanding that [its] responsibility of backtracking and ‘correcting’ these mistakes was from the point it was made aware of the findings,” Missildine wrote. “The board had begun the process of backtracking and finding the old credit card receipts, which were submitted to and should have been maintained by the former accountants for FY 2018, but did not proceed into previous years based on this understanding.”
She also noted the receipts in question, “while not organized,” were available in a file in her office, adding that a majority of them were produced for the auditing team but “were not considered in reducing the number of incidents stated in this report.”
The report also indicates several expenses made by board employees were coded as “office supplies” even though they were actually spent on such things as legal fees, travel expenses, meals, car maintenance, association dues and more.
Prior findings noted more than 100 such occurrences but under the “current status,” auditors also flagged 258 more recent charges on the board’s credit card incorrectly coded as “office supplies” — expenditures including 116 charges related to travel.
Again, Missildine pointed to the board’s former accounting firm when responding to the findings related to the recording of expenditures. She also said the board believes several of the unresolved findings from prior audits have since been addressed or reclassified.
As for the more recent instances, she said the board’s in-house accountant routinely groups items by function instead of “coding for the type of expense.” She also cited a specific section of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s guidelines (GASB 34) in justifying the practice.
A complete copy of the public examiners’ report, as well as Missildine’s response to that report, can be viewed at below.