BRADENTON – External auditors from a Tampa-based law firm will send their findings in the long-awaited outside audit to Manatee's internal auditor Ed Daugherty by 5 p.m. today, according to the school board. The report will be followed by a 2 p.m. workshop Monday, at which auditors will present their findings to the board before their scheduled meeting. Board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner thinks that the process, as scheduled, leaves much to be desired in terms of satisfying taxpayers' desire to get answers.
The audit was ordered in the wake of a $3.4 million dollar budget deficit, which ultimately led to the resignation of former superintendent Tim McGonegal. The size of the discrepancy (nearly $8 million from what had been projected) along with McGonegal's admission that he deliberately kept knowledge of the fiasco from the board and public have raised obvious concerns as to who was ultimately responsible for the errors, as well as whether others may have known or helped to keep them concealed through a heated school board election in August.
Miner started yesterday's workshop by voicing his displeasure with the process as scheduled.
"This board makes rules: for students, for staff, and all employees, and we expect compliance, and we enforce that compliance," said Miner. "And we also make rules for ourselves, and the public expects us to comply with those rules. My concern is what has been reported in the newspapers: that tomorrow, sometime after 5 p.m., there would be released information for a workshop on Monday over the weekend.”
Miner said that not only was the scheduling ineffective, but also violated specific rules of the board.
"The rule that we have in our operating manual specifically provides that there should be a week, not a weekend, between the dissemination of information and the workshop where that information will be discussed," said Miner. "I'll specifically refer to the rule: it's in Rule 10 of the Board Operating Manual."
School board attorney John Bowen was dismissive of the rule in the operating manual, suggesting the board wasn't bound by it. Miner then asked that the board reschedule the meeting to allow for the required time and the issue was placed on the agenda at the end of the meeting. However, Miner's concerns not only failed to find support amongst the other four members, but it was decided that the report would not be released to the public via the district website today at 5 p.m. as previously reported, but rather at 2 p.m. Monday – the start time of the meeting.
Miner told TBT that he was disappointed with the result and had hoped that the board would make every effort possible to involve the public in the process, showing taxpayers that the board intends to be completely transparent in the auditing process. He suggested that rather than a workshop, where the public is not able to give comment, the board schedule a "special meeting" at a sizable venue like the County Commission chambers, after the public had enough time to read the complete report and formulate questions they might have.
"I think everyone can agree that we desperately need to begin the process of restoring trust with the taxpayers of Manatee County," said Miner. "I'm not sure that this is the best process for that to occur."