Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Gary Jones, in a video interview with CapitolBeatOK, has summarized findings of a special audit investigating questions raised about the travel claims of a former Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The auditor and his staff concluded that there was evidence of possible falsified claims, and other concerns. Other issues were found that have triggered a broader inquiry, Jones said in an interview this week.
Jones explained that the investigation was undertaken at the request of Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, who now runs the state Department of Education. The special audit covered the period July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011.
In the interview, he also provided a broad outline of other audits he is pursuing.
Jones said, “We received a request from Superintendent of Public Instruction. There were allegations that an employee was falsifying travel claims. They made the request, we sent our investigative auditors in. They did a very good job of interviewing people and presenting the results to the Department of Education.”
In summary, Jones said, “They discovered there were instances of travel that could not be documented, times where the individual claimed to be attending meetings and there was no evidence of that happening.”
Jones said the audit is a “customary thing that we do.” He reported, “We receive requests from District Attorneys, from boards of county commissioners, from school districts. So, this is one of our divisions. This is a routine thing that we do.”
Jones told CapitolBeatOK his office is pursuing a wide range of investigations: “We have a large number of requests that have been made, whether it’s from school districts and counties. We’re in the process, at different stages in those investigations. We’ll release those reports as they become available.”
Six of the new report’s “objectives” touch upon the work of Misty Kimbrough, a former Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction. The final report from Jones pointed to what appear to be significant areas of concern that could become the basis for further action, including another audit report in 30 to 60 days.
In the succinct executive summary of the special audit report, the first objective “supports the allegation that the former Assistant State Superintendent filed for and was reimbursed for travel claims that included false entries. Further, we concluded that the allegedly falsified travel claims may have been utilized more for the ‘appearance’ of having been ‘on the job’ and/or disguising absences from the job, rather than the often negligible amounts that were obtained with the travel claims.”
As for the second objective, information developed “supports the allegation that there was little or no time accountability system in place for the former Assistant State Superintendent to record and report ‘time worked’ or time ‘on the job.’ As a result of the failure to enforce its own policies and procedures regarding the accountability for time worked, the ‘leave’ records for the former Assistant State Superintendent were also unreliable.”
In one part of the report, Jones points to past agency management as a source of concern.
The report’s executive summary reads as follows: “[W]e report the lack of consistency in enforcing the Department’s own policies and procedures for time reporting was not confined to the single occurrence of the former Assistant State Superintendent, but that the Department had no uniform system for documenting the time claimed by its employees. We report there were other areas and sections of the Department where time records were not necessarily reliable and/or were nonexistent.”
In another area, the report from the auditor’s office detailed “a variety of findings related to job duties, pay and travel expenses concerning a ‘temporary’ employee, but there were no criminal allegations reported for this situation.”
In four other areas, the audit report touched upon “a relatively small ($2.5 million) federal special education grant program for “residential placement,” an alleged inappropriate change to a monitoring report for a specific school district, an alleged possible violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and a possible misappropriation of state resources and employees. We found these four concerns to be largely unsubstantiated.”
Concerning what was characterized as “a nonspecific concern” about “sole source” contracts, the report concludes, “Our test work in this area did not indicate any findings to report.”
Statutory authority for the agency to respond to agency requests for special audits is found in state law at 74 O.S. 2001, § 227.8. Material in the report is available to journalists and subject to public scrutiny due to provisions of the Oklahoma Open Records Act (51 O.S. § 24A.1 et seq.).
Peter J. Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog last week distilled the findings in the auditor and inspector’s report as follows:
Kimbrough was reimbursed for travel expenses, including a hotel stay, for a meeting she did not attend in White Oak.
Kimbrough was reimbursed for travel expenses, including a hotel stay, for a meeting in Oklahoma City which is considered her “official duty station area” and therefore not eligible for overnight reimbursement.
Kimbrough may have submitted false travel documents not to get the small sum of money but to make it appear she was at work rather than taking leave time for which she was reimbursed upon her termination.
Kimbrough received nearly $12,700 for her unused leave time, but as much as $3,000 may have been for leave that was taken, but not recorded as leave.