Doug Henderson's first steps as Beaufort County treasurer are promising.
Most significant in achieving substantive change, he's fired seven employees, about one-third of his staff, and named two new deputy treasurers, one to manage tax collections and one, a certified public accountant, to serve as the department's chief financial officer.
Changes at the top in that office are critical to creating a new, more accountable culture there. The old treasurer, Joy Logan, was known more for her finger-pointing than innovation. Some entrenched habits there will have to change.
For example, in March, we reported on exorbitant overtime pay in that office. Three employees had racked up $128,524 in overtime pay over the past four years, 31 percent of their total regular pay during that time, according to county records. Logan had little clue and lots of excuses for that.
Interestingly, Henderson plans to replace four of the seven employees he fired, but will not replace the other three. Yet we now have seven employees answering phone inquiries rather than three. What were the employees doing before?
New systems, too, are needed for handling the public's money. Audits have repeatedly found problems with late deposits, delays in posting to the county ledger and a lack of documentation and verification. Correcting those problems will be vital to improving operations in the Treasurer's Office.
Henderson's efforts to improve customer service also are to be applauded. A simple thing like issuing license plate decals after vehicle taxes are paid rather than requiring taxpayers to wait for the state Department of Motor Vehicles to mail it or go to the DMV to retrieve it can make a difference to people. Who knew such a thing could be done? Apparently, half the counties in the state had figured it out.
Even better will be making sure bills for vehicle taxes go out in a timely and dependable manner.
Henderson's response to finding hundreds of people still owed tax refunds is spot on.
"I know that these people have been waiting for some time, and it's not fair to them."
He's right to move quickly to correct the situation.
We expect even more changes in an office that had grown moribund over the past 20 years despite the sea change that has swept over Beaufort County.
We'll be watching for those changes, and we expect other local officials to do all they can to help.