State audit finds small irregularities at Admiral’s Cove

The results are in on a special limited audit focusing on the financial conduct of three commissioners in Admirals Cove Water District.

Just in time for the election.

While the much-anticipated findings do answer some nagging questions regarding elected officials’ pay vouchers and activity sheets, the report has does not resolve the underlying controversies that have characterized political life in the district, which serves 343 homes.

District Commissioner Adel Saba still maintains the audit was “strictly a political ploy to begin with,” utilized by board President Lana Wallace to discredit him and force him out of office.

Saba, who said that he hadn’t planned to run for re-election until the recent controversy, is being challenged for his Position 1 seat by Michael Shannon.

Wallace, in turn, said she believes Saba was actually “let off the hook” by the audit, which she feels could have been more aggressive in rooting out what she sees as financial malfeasance.

The Oct. 17 audit was unanimously agreed upon by the commissioners themselves and was performed early last month by state Audit Manager Nestor Newman. In his report, Newman noted the findings do not represent an enforcement action on the part of the state, nor do they express an opinion, but are intended for use by those participating in the audit.

The report finds that, under the specific terms of the audit, Saba did in fact receive just over $800 in “questionable” district reimbursements between December 1999 and August of this year.

However, the audit also said Saba was improperly underpaid by the district a total of $940 during the same period.

The amount of $800.04 — amassed in 17 separate payments — is significantly less than the $1,914.63 (plus 6 percent interest) commissioner and district auditor Howard Duncan requested Saba repay at a board meeting on Aug. 14. Duncan’s motion passed, with Saba dissenting.

The motion also requested that the alleged debt to the district be deducted “from Saba’s future authorized payments.”

Neither Wallace nor Duncan were entirely satisfied with the audit.

Duncan, who only had a chance to “skim” the audit, said he got the feeling “that it’s a little light in areas.” He said he still believes his initial findings regarding questionable payments were valid.

He added he was surprised to find his own name on the “back pages” of the audit, where Newman found $15.05 in questionable district payments made to Duncan.

According to the audit, Duncan was also underpaid by $90.

“I guess I made some mistakes in my math,” he said.

“I can’t say I’m not pleased,” Duncan continued. “If this is what they found, this is what we have to live with.”

He added that, “at the rate those people charge, you don’t do this too often.”

Wallace pointed out that there are two separate issues dealt with in the audit — incorrect charges versus pay waivers — and the number amounts should not be conflated. Wallace was found by the audit to have only one questionable charge to the district for $2.50.

As for the incorrect charges attributed to Saba, Wallace said that she’s “happy for what they found.”

“It justifies the board’s actions,” she said.

The pay waivers are a different matter. By law, commissioners are required to submit a written request if they wish to waive, either in part or totally, the $70 a day they are allotted as pay under state law.

Saba, according to the audit, never submitted any such waiver. Wallace contends that Saba did give verbal notification that he wanted to have a portion of his salary waived.

“I think that he just did it for political purposes and he didn’t intend on taking the waiver anyway,” said Wallace.

She added that Saba now refuses to sign any waivers.

Saba admitted as such, saying he refused to sign because Wallace would not allow him access to the district’s attorney. He said Wallace is “the type that hands you something and says, ‘Here, sign it.’” He said he simply wanted to know what he was putting his signature on.

“I said to tell the attorney to give me a call, and I never heard another thing about it,” Saba said.

“In fact,” he added, “I’m glad I didn’t sign it.”

Wallace said that Saba’s claim that he was denied access to the attorney is “all wet.”

In an Oct. 30 addressed to Wallace, district attorney Joan McPherson recommended the commissioners repay all incorrect charges as listed in the audit. She also recommended the district pay $940 to Saba and $90 to Duncan for previous underpayment of wages.

So far, no plans have been made regarding how to deal with findings of the audit. McPherson said that the Board needs to decide whether “action regarding this audit report warrants calling a special meeting.” The alternative to calling an executive session is to take action on the findings at the next regular district meeting.

Saba said he would be “more than happy” to subtract the $800 he owes from the $940 the district owes him, though he added that any outcome depends on the decision of the board.

“If they want to apologize,” Saba said of the other commissioners, “I would probably be willing to let everything lie the way it is.”

He added that, if apologized to , he would even be willing to forgo payment on the remainder of what’s owed him.

“We’re going to have to have a meeting,” Wallace said, who added that she is worn out by “the repetitious nature of having to go after a person for the same thing, month after month.

“When you have somebody who's so uncooperative, it just gets so redundant,” Wallace said. “Other than tying him down and forcing him to sign waivers, we have no other way to get him to do it.”

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