Treasurer must set high standards for office

Doug Henderson has embarked on a challenging journey as Beaufort County's treasurer, and we hope he's up for the trip.

Henderson, who took over July 1 for Joy Logan, ending her 20-year stint as treasurer, walks into a situation fraught with potential pitfalls. Logan did not run an efficient office, as past audits have shown. Henderson will have to create his own system of operations; Logan's will not do.

We'll know soon enough whether he's put to good use the past eight months waiting in the wings to take office. (After getting elected in November, he could not be sworn in until the end of the fiscal year .)

Thanks are due county administrator Gary Kubic for carving out money to get Henderson on the county payroll and working toward his new job in the meantime. That could prove critical to his getting off to a sound start.

Henderson, a retired banker who also has worked in the county Assessor's Office, has used the time to examine other counties' operations, familiarize himself with Beaufort County's systems and processes and interview department staff members.

Not all of the issues he wants to tackle are in-house. He's identified some problems whose solutions lie with changes in state rules and regulations. For example, the Treasurer's Office has to wait to be notified of a taxpayer's address change even if it knows the address in its records is wrong. As a result, the office sometimes has to mail delinquency letters to addresses it knows are wrong. That makes no sense.

He says he will make customer service a priority. That would be a welcome change.

Problems with Logan's handling of her job surfaced long before the November election and long before former employee Cassaundra White was arrested last year and charged with embezzling more than $210,000. (White pleaded guilty in March.)

Four audits since 2005 have found consistent problems with late deposits, delays in posting to the county ledger and lack of documentation and verification.

A forensic audit, the result of problems in the 2009 annual tax sale, found no independent review of cashiers' work in collecting and recording payments to redeem property sold in the sale; records for the sale kept in notebooks and maintained by hand; and an average six-day lag between the time property is redeemed and the money is deposited in the bank.

A rubber stamp of Logan's signature was kept in a back office where many employees had access to it.

We point out these problems to illustrate the challenges Henderson faces as our new treasurer. This is a critical job in local government. The Treasurer's Office is responsible for collecting and disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars for the county, the Beaufort County School District, municipalities and other local government entities.

We again urge County Council to look at making the treasurer and auditor hired positions, answerable to the county administrator. It would have to come with a change in the form of county government. That would require a referendum. The people of Beaufort County would have a say.

Accountability just once every four years for critical county administrative positions isn't enough, no matter who has the job.