Friday, November 25, 2005

November 25, 2005 Blog Comments: Past and Future

It is amazing that my simple post of November 2, quoting a lengthy passage from an audit by the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee, has generated more comments than any other post.

In an audit of a state educational entity, the State Comptroller's Office, the governmental unit that also performs the Hamblen County financial audit, was quoted as pointing out that financial audits are limited in nature and that government officials are the first and primary line of defense in the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse.

Specifically, the state auditors included in their commentary the following quote: "After all, auditors cannot prevent fraud. It is the duty of the people in positions of trust and responsibility, who are given... power by their positions, to protect their organization and the assets provided by the taxpayers from fraud, waste, and abuse."

Unfortunately, many of the comments that have been made to that post tend to reflect the personal anger and frustration of these "anonymous" posters instead of addressing the actual issue of the post---the Comptroller's statements about the limitations of financial audits and about the duty of all officials, department heads, and others (people in positions of trust and responsibility) to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse.

Instead of addressing the issues, the comments section is being used by one or more "anonymous" individuals to vent their highly personal anger at me and to express how very much they dislike me. And "dislike" is putting it mildly when you take a look at the comments.

The main purpose of this blog is to provide information about county government to the public, and I have on occasion included state and federal government issues and personal comments as well.

I recognize that there will be differences of opinion, but I always hoped that these differences of opinion could and would be addressed in a civil manner.

I have put out facts, and I welcome any factual corrections as I do not intend nor do I want to make a misstatement of fact.

Apparently these facts have greatly angered a number of individuals. I once heard a quote to the effect, "If you really want to make someone mad, tell them the truth."

Well, I've told the truth based on information that I have, and I have really made some people mad.

Most of the information and facts are based on public documents that I have acquired both as a county commissioner and as a private citizen.

Where Hamblen County Government or where the Hamblen County Board of Education or anyone else has made a charge to me for public documents, every charge has been paid. The amount that I've paid out personally for public information totals many hundreds of dollars.

Why have I requested documents? For the very purpose of making it as certain as possible that I put out information based on facts to the taxpayers of Hamblen County.

Putting out the financial facts, asking questions and insisting on documentation, and working for accountability in county government has obviously made some very powerful people mad.

If you look at the content and tone of the "anonymous" comments and statements that are made in the local newspaper, you'll see that "anonymous" commenters and others who express intense personal hatred toward me do not challenge or even try to deal with the financial facts.

When the financial facts can't be handled, these "anonymous" individuals resort to a "shoot the messenger" brand of attack. Shooting the messenger is sign of weakness and emphasizes that these commenters can't refute or deal with the financial facts logically, so they resort to personal smears and try to change the subject.

Regardless of who it is that's mad, anonymous personal attacks (whether they are attacks by one anonymous commenter on another anonymous commenter or whether they are attacks directed toward me or others) can not continue on this blog because these anonymous commenters do nothing to advance the primary purpose of this blog--the open discussion of county government issues and financial data.

If you feel a need to make personal attacks on other commenters, then be man or woman enough to put your real name to your personal attack.

If you are going to tell me that the only place you want to see my name is in the "obits" (as an anonymous commenter did recently), be man or woman enough to put your real name to your comment. Hey, I have heard worse.

Abuse of the comment section on this blog forces me to institute a policy for comments. From now on, to make sure that personal attacks and foul language are not included in the comments section of my blog,

I have an e-mail account for receipt of comments. When submitting comments via e-mail, the commenter must include his or her real name, address, and phone # in the subject line or in the first line of the e-mail before comments are made in the body of the e-mail. The e-mail address is If you just can't summon up the courage to put your name to your opinion in an e-mail directly to me, you can just keep sending in those anonymous comments via the blog, and hopefully that will lower your blood pressure that apparently skyrockets every time you are faced with facts and the truth.

After I receive the e-mail comments, I will verify the identity of the commenter by a phone call and address check, and I will then post those comments that deal with the topic of the post and do not include personal attacks or foul language. (When I post the comments, only the name of the commenter will be shown. The address and phone number will not be posted.)

If a comment is not posted because it doesn't address the post or because it includes personal attacks or foul language, the commenter will still have the comfort of having told me (with or without foul language) exactly what he or she thinks of me as a person.

This policy of verification of name, address, and phone # of anyone who submits a blog comment is in keeping with the policy of most major newspapers (and even the policy of the Citizen-Tribune) in verifying name, address, and phone # of those who write a letter to the editor for publication.

This blog is mine and includes my name. As the moderator, I am responsible not only for my posts but also for determining whether or not to include a comments section and, if so, what comments are acceptable.

I have chosen to continue to include a comments section. However, previous abuses of the comments section necessitate that individuals should only be allowed to use my blog for comments if they are willing to identify themselves and if they are willing to address blog issues while refraining from foul language and personal attacks.

If you want to make personal attacks or use foul language on a blog, you will need to find another blog for that purpose.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

November 24, 2005 Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day. A time for our great nation and its people to pause and give thanks for our many blessings.

Thanksgiving Day. A time for remembrance of the past. A time for expressions of gratitude for our many blessings -- both past and present. A time of hopefulness as we look to the future.

Amid the celebrations, the remembrances, and the prayers of gratitude, a lighthearted moment of Thanksgiving mirth and laughter can be seen at:
(and be sure to turn up the volume)

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

November 17, 2005 Why there have been no recent posts

I have not posted recently due to family illnesses.

Thank you to those who have called, who have left messages of concern, and who have lifted our family up in prayer.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

November 2, 2005 Audits: What they tell and what they don't tell

In a previous post on October 28, I mentioned that the Hamblen County Commission decided in October 2002 to have state auditors come in and perform the county's annual financial audit at a cost of $13,000-$14,000 per year and cancelled the financial audit contract that it had with local private auditors at a cost of $31,000 per year.

In my campaign for county commission, contracting with the state auditors to perform the Hamblen County audit was a keystone of my platform, and I introduced the resolution in October 2002 to do just that.

Using the state auditors has had at least two major benefits for the county.

1. The county saves $17,000-$18,000 every year on audit costs-- plus
2. Because the state auditors are experienced in auditing counties, the quality of the Hamblen County financial audit is better today than it was in years past.

But, as noted in the title of this post, a financial audit is by its nature a very limited financial review. A financial audit looks at a small sample of transactions. It does not, and it is not intended to, look at every check, every purchase, every invoice, every receipt, every deposit, every grant, etc.

There are financial audits, performance audits, legal audits, and the like, but there is one thing to remember about all audits: "Trust but verify."

The State Comptroller's Office, the governmental unit that performs the Hamblen County audit, notes in a report that I will briefly quote here that audits are limited and that local government officials are the first and primary line of defense in the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse at the local level.

"After all, auditors cannot prevent fraud. It is the duty of the people in positions of trust and responsibility, who are given the power by their positions, to protect their organization and the assets provided by the taxpayers from fraud, waste, and abuse. Management, and boards, when part of the structure of an organization, have often tried to avoid these responsibilities by pointing out that they cannot stop what they don’t know. If staff under them decides to act inappropriately, how are they to know? Well, having no knowledge about something is not the same thing as having no responsibility to know.
To effectively fight fraud, it is essential that management take proactive steps to assure themselves that they have made it clear to staff that they are to be apprised of departures from controls or breakdowns of controls. Furthermore, management should monitor the activities of their respective organizations to assure themselves that they are being given accurate information by staff. It should no longer be acceptable for management to say that they just didn’t know what was going on. They may not have actual knowledge, but the test is, what should the management of an organization know about the operations and integrity of their organization? What good-faith steps did they take to obtain pertinent information? What did they know, and how did they utilize that knowledge to meet their responsibilities to the taxpayers?

The excuse from Wall Street to Main Street is always ignorance of the facts. Unfortunately, it has been too easy for responsible parties to turn their heads to avoid seeing the problem. "
State audit #04059, State Dept of Education, Financial Compliance Audit of State Departments and Agencies. The full text is available at the Comptroller's website.
The Comptroller's Office, the very office that performs numerous audits across the state, points out the limitations of audits. The Comptroller is not accusing anyone of fraud, waste, or abuse. He is, however, pointing out that local officials are the first and primary line of defense in preventing fraud, waste, and abuse. And how does the Comptroller say that local officials can act to protect public funds? Ask questions and insist on accurate financial information.
If certain individuals want to attack those who ask questions and who try to verify information and financial data, then I guess they would also attack the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee and common sense.
I will continue to work for the taxpayers. I will continue to ask questions.
Hamblen County must get its financial house in order. Hamblen County must get its debt under control. Hamblen County government must learn to balance a budget and not spend more than it takes in.