Subject: Audit forms voluntary
Summary: County officials confirm that completion of the recently distributed audit forms, or CSAs, is strictly voluntary. Individual groups may complete them in detail, send in an alternate document such as a 990, or ignore them. It was also noted a version of the CSA meant for County offices was inadvertently included in the letter sent to Friends’ groups and can be ignored. End Summary
A group of the Fairfax Library Advocates, accompanied by an attorney providing pro bono assistance, met with County officials Wednesday afternoon, following up on the earlier meeting of January 9, 2015.
As is standard practice, the Advocates emphasized they do not speak for or represent anyone other than themselves.
The purpose of the meeting was to try to rectify discrepancies between statements made by senior County officials and the materials distributed to various groups. In pursuit of this, the conversation began with an attempt to clarify the origin of the audit request. It has been repeatedly acknowledged by all parties that the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations did not request an audit of the Friends' accounts. Further, a previous assertion that a homeowner’s group asked for the audit has no merit. There have been no allegations of impropriety by any Friends group. From discussions with members of concerned groups it appears the request did not originate with the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Trustees, Branch Managers or staff, the Board Auditor’s office, the media, or any outside group. A very limited number of possible originating offices remain, but the officials declined comment. The officials made it clear that they could not speak to anything other than the details of the CSA itself and that the auditor was simply doing as required by the BOS Resolution.
On the timing of the request, there is no indication that a review of Friends’ assets and operations was contemplated until after the Federation made its request for an audit of the Library Administration’s System Gift Fund.
Moving to the audit itself, the Auditor’s office representatives stated they developed the Control Self Assessments (CSAs) in response to instructions from the Board of Supervisors in the Board Minutes of December 2, 2014. The Advocates noted that set of Board Minutes was drafted under the false assumption that the Federation had requested the Friends be audited and the entire premise of the request was thus in question. The Auditors replied they worked with the instructions they were given. The Advocates accepted that the Auditor’s office had to follow orders but asked when the Board Minutes would be corrected and if this would then obviate subsequent instructions. This question was outside the purview of the County participants and it was agreed this would be better addressed to the Board of Supervisors.
The Auditors noted at this point that two versions of the CSA, one for the Friends and a different one for County offices, had inadvertently been sent out together. Only the first version, marked for “FOL” need be considered.
The Advocates wondered under what authority the County was auditing independent 501 (c) 3 organizations. They noted Chairman Bulova had written Acting Advocates Chairman Hays on October 31, 2014 and stated, “The Friends accounts, to my knowledge, are not subject to county audits since they are separate (non-county) non-profits.” The officials then stated that completion of the forms was strictly voluntary and thus no authority was needed. This surprised the Advocates present, who stated the letter sent gave the strong impression that the County was insisting on these forms being completed. The County officials repeated that the process was voluntary. When asked if that meant any given Friends group could choose to fill out the form in exhaustive detail, choose to send in only documents already prepared for other purposes like a 990, choose to answer N/A to everything, or choose to ignore the request entirely the answer was yes.
This led to a discussion of what was the purpose of the CSAs. The Auditor explained there were several ways he could have approached satisfying the Supervisors’ request including a full audit but he settled on the CSA approach as he felt it likely to be the easiest and the most useful. One goal was to better understand and track funds flowing into and out of the Library Administration’s gift fund.
When it became evident not everyone was familiar with the system used to collect and account for funds that go to the gift fund, one of the Advocates with direct and extensive knowledge of this explained the process. Briefly, through the new Comprise system the County collects all monies and has complete control of the entire process. The Friends generally have no knowledge of what has been collected until the County returns that portion which goes to the Friends. Given the County controls 100% of this process, what could the Friends usefully add? The Auditor contended that additional information was always helpful and served to verify other accounts.
A second use of the CSAs is to determine best practices that can then be shared with other groups. In response to this it was noted many Friends groups already share information and ideas and there were regular Forums that also served this purpose.
Meanwhile, all the focus on an audit of the Friends has taken attention away from the request the Federation actually did make in this area, a full audit of the Library Administration’s Gift Fund. During the January 9th meeting with Chairman Bulova, the Library Administrators agreed to provide information beginning with copies of detailed quarterly reports on the uses of the Fund already produced and distributed to Branch Managers. These (dating back at least five years) have not yet been received.
The County officials were gracious with their time and professionally presented their reasoning for their actions.
The Advocates concluded by noting the voluntary aspect of the CSA was unclear to many people as was the continued inaccurate reference to the CSAs being developed in response to a Federation request. The Advocates suggested the County clarify these two points and perhaps provide additional justification for their remaining requests in a follow-up letter.
Comment – the County made no claim to any right to insist the Friends provide information on anything other than a voluntary basis. It is our opinion they correctly understand this as there is no such right. The proposed new MOU is yet to be seen, and may assert some claim in this area, but the County officials said they have no knowledge of what may or may not be in the MOU as this rests with the Trustees.
Every Friends Group is, of course, free to take any action it sees fit with respect to the CSAs. A variety of responses can probably be expected. The auditor did say that he had received phone calls from several Friends’ groups asking questions. The meeting ended with a reaffirmation of a desire to work collaboratively on issues of common concern and the additional clarifications received here help in that regard.