Credit: Commons 2.0

At the January 10 Board of Commissioners work session, a presentation on an internal audit revealed issues with how travel funding is handled.

According to David Roberts of Mauldin and Jenkins, which the BOC hired last September to evaluate training and travel costs between July 1, 2018 through July 31, 2022, two themes emerged: “inconsistent documentation” and “inconsistent prior approvals” for travel costs.

Specifically, Roberts said, those inconsistencies included:

  • hotel receipts vs. confirmations
  • conference agendas
  • certified statements for missing receipts
  • documentation of return of funds for overpayments
  • prior approval for hotels over the General Services Administration (GSA) rate
  • deluxe hotel rooms, comfort-plus airplane seats, “etc.”
  • privately-owned vehicles, mileage within ten miles of home or office

The auditors are looking into expenses incurred, “as well as the County’s relevant policies and procedures related to training and travel.”

See the slideshow attached to the work session agenda:

Roberts said, “There certainly is inconsistency in terms of documentation maintained. So, as an example, people may submit hotel reservations or confirmations but not the actual receipts. So things can vary, people may or may not be attending or actually utilizing those lodging.”

He continued: “Additional things we’re noticing to help beef up your controls and ensure compliance. There are additional things that one would hope to see, such as conference agendas if you attend. That helps you understand if food was provided or if the county should be reimbursing for food. It also helps provide proof of attendance.”

“Sometimes there are missing receipts—we all lose receipts; I travel quite a bit. A best practice is to have a signed certified statement that ‘yes, I did incur this expense.’ And then also documentation of return of funds for overpayments. So the county does allow prepayments. So before somebody goes on a travel expense, if they do not have the personal credit card or means to pay for it, the county is able to provide a prepayment based on terms and conditions. And what we’re not seeing, or consistently seeing, is basically documentation, kind of that true-up at the end of the day.”

According to Roberts, approvals for “things that may fall out of normal boundaries, specifically related to GSA compliance” are also an issue.

“Things related to per diem, to airline tickets, to hotel room types, those type of things,” he said. “They all could very well be understandable, but we’d just like to see more consistent documentation.”

District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin, who had gotten into a verbal dispute with former Chief Operating Officer Ramona Bivins after Franklin refused to book travel through the designated employee for that purpose and who demanded that she receive reimbursements for travel expenses allegedly charged to her own credit card, questioned the auditor’s expertise during the meeting.

“Are you actually an auditor yourself, or what is your role particularly with Mauldin and Jenkins?” Franklin asked.

“I’m a partner with Mauldin and Jenkins,” Roberts said.

David Roberts, partner, Mauldin & Jenkins (Photo: Mauldin & Jenkins)

“Tell me your name again?” she asked.

“David Roberts. Yes, ma’am. And I’m on the advisory side of the house, so I’m not a CPA—”

“Oh,” Franklin said.

“—but I focus primarily on procurement, forensic, kind of digging into the weeds. and looking at compliance.”

“Alright, if you don’t mind me asking, how many years have you been in the procurement forensic side?” Franklin said.

“23 now,” Roberts replied.

“But you look good, 23 years!” Franklin joked, adding, “When I first moved to Georgia as an internal auditor, a very difficult job, the beauty of it is you’re external, coming in to bring this information to us, so thank you so very much for providing that information to us, as well as the scope. If you could let me know, if we go back, at what point did you, once we voted and everything, did you begin to engage with the county?”

YouTube video
Watch the Mauldin and Jenkins presentation at the Jan. 10, 2023 Board of Commissioners meeting

“So we were engaged in September,” Roberts said. “I believe we actually began fieldwork in, I want to say, October, and part of the delay was just the fact that the county has a room of computers where auditors can access MUNIS, and obviously, it’s actually, it’s really safeguarded, and IT does a great job of hounding us and protecting your information. So we had to wait for the financial auditors to complete their work and leave that room for us to have access to the computers.”

“Okay,” Franklin said. “And the other thing that I want to make sure that you’re aware of because we were looking at the dates—is Jason [Brookins] here? Somebody from IT? Okay, so keep in mind that there was a specific time period in which we did bring on MUNIS. So, I don’t know if you were aware before that period of time that all the information was not coinciding. In particular, I’ll never forget, one of the most nightmares we’ve ever had, and I know others remember this, I want to say, I think, Commissioner Davis was just coming in, and that was when we were still operating off of a older system, transferring to MUNIS, and we had employees right at the holidays not getting paychecks, some getting the dollars, some getting a thousand dollars over. So I remember those tests at the time were not, would I say, consistent? And so therefore, it shows me that there may be continued some gaps that you want to go back and look at. Because if you’re looking at 2018, 2018 we were not up and fully loaded at that time, I don’t think. But just go back and look. I’m not an IT person, but I do remember that being a huge issue, and I do remember unfortunately having to pull in our IT commissioner down here on the end here [Davis] and having him look at some things, because it just behooved me that we did a whole upload without proper verification and signing off, seeing that the tests were done. And our employees took a big hit, big hit. So if it tells me that that was done then, then I need you to go back and make sure that you look at the verification of the actual paperwork, not just what was uploaded to MUNIS.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Roberts replied.

“Please don’t forget that,” Franklin said, wagging her finger. “That’s a very important factor—”

“I won’t forget that,” Roberts said.

“The other thing that I heard you mention was about the GSA compliances,” Franklin said. “Keep in mind that, when we are on travel through ACCG or NACO, just if you all don’t know, that they actually provide us with a list. And so unfortunately there have been times that we tried to get in at a particular time, and unfortunately, we used to go through a certain department [Finance], and I see Angela [Jackson] is out here, so I’ll be glad to work—I’m glad to work with you moving forward—but at times, that we were not able to get hotel accommodations in a timeframe that we requested it, which then puts you outside of the bounds of those better rates, so just keep that in mind.”

“Absolutely, and I travel myself,” Roberts replied, “so—”

“You understand,” Franklin laughed.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Franklin also recently reimbursed the county for overpayments she had received.

“I would really really love to see if you all could look back at the original audit that was done by Terminus,” she continued, “and look at our actual policies as far as education, and what is actually considered as continued education versus college degrees, and that’s really big, and that’s different. Because remember, we all have to follow the same—uh, how do I say—the standards may be different, but they’re more stringent in government. And then I need you to go back to the code specifically that states ad valorem taxes cannot be used for said education. So I want you all to make sure that you are versed on that, if you need any help with that, there are folks at ACCG that can provide you with that information, so that nobody on this dais can say that I’m giving you something, I’m just telling you where to find that. So that is really the key to it. And then defining the difference between a college degree that is closely aligned and related to the job that is being done on the behalf of the citizens.”

On August 2, Franklin, along with Commissioners Gail Hambrick and Alieka Anderson, voted to authorize the audit through a resolution which did not include an amendment, supported by Chairman Jeff Turner and Commissioner DeMont Davis, to include all members of the Board of Commissioners in that audit.

“And finally, you mentioned something about the personal credit card,” Franklin continued. “I did just tell y’all I was an internal auditor. I want you to tell me something. What have you found about the policy as it stands at this moment on reserving hotels and so forth? What the current county policy on that? Do you have that? Or have you reviewed it?”

“We have reviewed it,” Roberts said. “I can’t recite it right now, so I apologize, but we certainly will be commenting on that in the final report.”

This is what Clayton County code says about employee travel:

Sec. 2-6. – Employee travel

(a) All requests by employees for travel, both intrastate and interstate, where county funds will be expended shall be submitted in writing for consideration for approval by the employee’s department head. All travel requests that exceed $1,500.00 must be approved by the chairman of the board of commissioners prior to any such travel. Upon the travel request being approved, the employee must submit the appropriate documents to the finance department. If using advance funds for travel, it shall be the duty of the employee making the trip, immediately upon return to the county, to certify the travel was made and to submit an itemized expense account to the chief financial officer. If the itemized certified accounting of travel is not made within 30 days from the date the employee returns to work, the accounting department shall deduct from his/her salary, any advance payment made to such employee.

(b) The chief financial officer is charged with the responsibility of administering the policy and preparing forms necessary or incidental to accurate accounting in order that the intent of this section shall be fully satisfied. In the absence of a specific guideline governing a travel request, the county will default to the most recently-adopted version of the Statewide Travel Policy enacted by the State of Georgia (or its equivalent) in processing employee travel requests.

(c) If the county employee utilizes his or her personal automobile for approved travel, as is contemplated by this resolution, the employee may be reimbursed at the current rate for mileage reimbursement set by the State of Georgia travel policy.

(d) If any employee is found to have violated the intent and spirit of this section said employee may be subject to disciplinary action.

(Code 1973, § 2-2-11; Res. No. 95-56, 6-20-95; Ord. No. 2014-119, § 1, 5-20-14; Ord. No. 2017-67, § 1, 10-3-17)

Since June 2022, Franklin has refused to respond to The Clayton Crescent’s requests for comment on various allegations, including that she had used her personal credit card to book travel and that she had brought her constituent aide, Kayla Collier, along to conferences for which Collier was not a registered participant. Multiple sources have alleged that Franklin uses Collier as a “nanny” for two of her minor children.

District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

When commissioners go to a work-related conference, they each get a per diem, which is a daily allowance for lodging, meals, and incidentals. The county policy is to use GSA’s recommendations for setting per diem costs.

For Savannah, the GSA’s 2022 per diem rate was $120 for hotel rooms. For Denver, those rates were $162 to $199. The point of a per diem is to set a reasonable rate for government officials to attend work-related conferences—not to provide a free vacation, ritzy suites, or luxury dining on the taxpayer’s dime.

In 2022, commissioners attended at least three conventions:

Mauldin and Jenkins examined all travel expenses for each BOC member, Chief Staff Attorney Chuck Reed, former CFO Ramona Bivins, and Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford, as well as for 25 department heads. They created spreadsheets, looked at the travel expenses each person incurred, the date and purpose of each trip, the estimated and actual claim dates, the category of each expense, direct payments by the county, documentation for return of travel funds that were overpaid, supporting documentation for “applicable expenditures,” receipts, certified statements for any missing receipts, and agendas.

Now, the auditors are examining financial information provided by the county, as well as sorting and analyzing the data “to identify trends.” They also are looking at the county’s “requirements for training and travel costs” and will analyze whether those requirements were followed. Mauldin and Jenkins also will “compare existing practices and procedures to leading practices and develop meaningful recommendations to improve/enhance operations and management,” according to a slideshow presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

The firm also is looking into the county’s payments and policies for educational expenses, including continuing education and degree programs. Franklin called for an investigation into the county’s education reimbursements after Chairman Jeff Turner approved tuition payments for Bivins and Stanford.

Warner, who was elected in 2016, said then that “I know it’s going to sound crazy, but drop some of the politics and be willing to do the right thing for the people we serve,” Franklin-Warner continued. “I’m not a politician. I’m a professional vocalist, a business owner, a mother and a wife. I’m not trying to be that career politician that has to get on this level or that level.”

Franklin has not responded to requests for comment on her travel expenses and alleged related financial issues, such as the county picking up her legal tab in Bivins v. Franklin et al. for a higher rate than that of Commissioners Gail Hambrick and Alieka Anderson (Franklin and Anderson are also being sued separately in Clayton County State Court for slander by Turner’s son) and that she allegedly owed more in travel reimbursements than the $259 cashier’s check recently released in response to The Clayton Crescent’s open records request:

The Clayton Crescent also asked Franklin to confirm when and where she had worked as an internal auditor. A check of LinkedIn showed several profiles for Franklin, but none mentioning a position as an internal auditor.

Franklin had not returned the latest request for comment by late Monday.

Franklin also told The Clayton News-Daily‘s Joe Adgie in 2016, “I had people, not necessarily commissioners, but people who made decisions and weren’t willing to explain why they made their decisions. If that’s the best decision for me and I can’t see it, give me the facts, and if you can’t share everything with me, tell me why this is the best decision.”

Roberts said he would provide a “detailed report” by mid-February.

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Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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