Audit to look at county employees' spending

WAKE COUNTY The audit comes weeks after Craig Witting, formerly the head of the county's recycling program, was fired. He's accused of taking more than 50 trips to places that included Disney World and Las Vegas and charging the county more than $160,000. Wittig's boss approved the expenses.

"It really appears that our major technique of monitoring expense reports was the department head, and when the department head signed off on the expense, it met our criteria for being an approved expense," said commissioner Tony Gurley.

The audit will take a closer look at spending over the last two years within the Environmental Services Department, which included the recycling program, and the last year of spending for all Wake County departments.

"The reason to have an audit going backward is to show that this was an isolated incident in solid waste, and the way to do that is to do an independent review," Wake County Manager David Cooke told county commissioners at a special meeting held Monday afternoon.

The county will pay a Raleigh firm, Cherry, Bekaert and Holland, LLP, to perform the audit at a cost of roughly $125,000 to $150,000 for 500 to 600 hours of work. That firm already audits the county's finances on a smaller scale. Preliminary findings are expected within 60 days.

Several county commissioners said their answering machines and email inboxes have been flooded in the weeks since revelations of Wittig's spending. Commissioners say both county employees and average taxpayers are steaming at the allegations of the misuse of public dollars.

Some commissioners want even more transparency when it comes to employee expense reports. Gurley says he would like to have the reports posted online for the public to see and access with ease.

"Instead of one auditor you've got 300 Wake County citizens with laptops at night, watching TV, going through your expense reports," Gurley said.

A question the audit will not answer deals with the fate of James Reynolds, Wittig's boss who approved Wittig's expense reports. Commissioner Lindy Brown said many of the county employees with whom she has spoken would like to see Reynolds fired. He has already been demoted, and his pay has been reduced.

"They are screaming for his head to be honest with you, and I hate to say it that way, but that's true, and they're quite disturbed," Brown said.

Cooke, who will ultimately decide Reynolds' employment status, wouldn't commit to whether tougher consequences are likely.

"The investigation is ongoing, it has not been concluded and it probably won't end anytime soon," Cooke said.

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