County charges Sheriff's Office with lack of transparency during audit

BOCC SealThe Citrus County Commission on Monday put the Citrus County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) in its political cross-hairs, blasting the Sheriff's Office for not being transparent during a recent audit examining transactions pertaining to the Sheriff's Office and its stewardship of fire services.

Clerk of Courts Angela Vick, whose office oversees audits, told commissioners that, although no criminality was found, auditors were not given what they needed to perform a complete audit; namely, full cooperation from the Sheriff's Office. She added that the county's decision to take fire services back was a good one.

Even so, she said, she recommended that the county should "Move on to a new day." Some commissioners later changed the term to "water under a bridge." But not all commissioners felt that way.

The auditors charged that the Sheriff's Office did not allow access to some areas they wanted to examine to ensure money was appropriately being spent in terms of the sheriff's office and its fire services component.

Commissioners congratulated themselves for "making the right decision" to take fire services back from the Sheriff's Office, and Commissioner Scott Carnahan pointed to the Sheriff's Office's alleged "lack of transparency" during the audit as proof as vindication of the county's wisdom. He also ballyhooed newspaper editorials written against the board for moving the fire agency back to direct county control, and cited the recent retirement of some in the sheriff's department and fire services as further proof.

As for moving forward, Carnahan said, "I don’t think this is water under the bridge. "I was elected to look after the citizens’ money. I’ve got a job, and I’m going to do that job. This is extremely disturbing. We’ve got a serious issue here." He reiterated that the Board of County Commissioners made the correct decision "to take this thing back over." He also said that Sheriff Mike Prendergast was arguing for the Sheriff's Office, even though he wasn’t in office during the time the county gave fire services to the CCSO.

Kitchen said it concerned him that those being audited should deny access to some areas to the auditors. Those areas, the auditor told commissioners involved splitting the costs between the Sheriff's Office and fire services.

Commissioner Brian Coleman asked auditors if anything criminal was found during the audit, and auditors said that none was found in the areas they were allowed to examine. Coleman later said that he was puzzled by the lack of cooperation from the CCSO, and said that it could be interpreted as "having something to hide" by some.

The lack of transparency in the audit was a concern he said. "It makes the hairs on the back of my head stand up," Coleman said.

No one was present's at Tuesday meeting to represent the Sheriff's Office's side of the audit process.