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Published: Saturday, 1/21/2012

State auditor faults TARTA

Transit agency’s records for ‘10 missing information

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Auditor Dave Yost, left, declared TARTA 2010 finances "unauditable" because of missing information. James Gee, right, the transit authority's general manager, acknowledged information agency officers had supplied Clifton Gunderson was incomplete. Auditor Dave Yost, left, declared TARTA 2010 finances "unauditable" because of missing information. James Gee, right, the transit authority's general manager, acknowledged information agency officers had supplied Clifton Gunderson was incomplete.
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For the second time in a year, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is in hot water with the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office, this time because of missing information in its 2010 financial records that has delayed completion of the annual audit.

In a Jan. 13 letter to transit authority officials, state Auditor Dave Yost declared TARTA’s 2010 finances “unauditable” because of the missing information, and gave the agency 90 days to correct the problem or face legal action.

“Unavailable records leave unanswered questions,” Mr. Yost said in a statement released Friday announcing that he had sent the letter. “This delay is deeply troubling.”

Attached to the letter were two lists outlining financial records, containing 31 documents or groups of documents, that Mr. Yost’s office said are missing or incomplete.

James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, acknowledged information that agency officers had supplied to the Toledo office of Clifton Gunderson, a national accounting firm auditing TARTA’s 2010 finances, was incomplete. But he described the information as “a list of minor details” and blamed its absence on delays getting a new computer accounting system running, followed by difficulty scheduling meetings between his staff and Clifton Gunderson representatives.

Bob Hinkle, Ohio’s chief deputy auditor, said audits like TARTA’s typically are completed within six months of the end of a given reporting period, which makes the TARTA 2010 audit now more than six months overdue.

“We’re 13 months after the close. This is an issue with the management of public funds, and timely reporting we believe is important,” Mr. Hinkle said. “It’s a small group of records. Give us the records, make the records available so we can complete the audit. Some of this stuff, [Clifton Gunderson] asked for clear back in May, and we don’t have it yet.”

The state considers 14 other entities in Ohio to also have unauditable books.

Mr. Gee said TARTA’s financial department fell behind on closing the 2010 books because of several new hires during that year who needed time to become familiar with transit authority finances.

It was also the year Stacey Clink, the agency’s comptroller, implemented a new computer accounting system in place of manual-ledger accounting, a transition that complicated matters further, the general manager said.

Along with predicting the matter will be cleared up by the 90-day deadline, Mr. Gee said he expects TARTA’s 2011 accounting to be wrapped up on time.

In May, Mr. Yost’s office issued a “finding for recovery” ordering TARTA to immediately seek repayment of $66,685 it illegally lent to Citizens for TARTA, a levy campaign committee, in 2007 and 2008. The auditor also charged that Mr. Gee’s dual role as TARTA general manager and Citizens for TARTA’s treasurer represented a conflict of interest in violation of state ethics laws.

Mr. Gee resigned as the committee’s treasurer, and the loans were repaid to TARTA from a combination of Citizens for TARTA funds and a $49,000 claim to the Ohio Transit Risk Pool, which insures transit authorities.

Citizens for TARTA established a monthly payment schedule to reimburse the transit insurer.

Last month, the Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill establishing such loans to be first-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

State law currently has no penalty provision for violations of the prohibition against using public funds in election campaigns. The bill is pending in the Ohio Senate.

Mr. Gee had defended the loans on the basis of advice the transit authority received from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office by way of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office stating that such a loan was legal.

But the law cited in the advice applied to private entities, not public agencies, and the advice was obtained only after the loans had been made and a TARTA auditor questioned their appropriateness.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094



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