Autumn on Lake Audobon

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Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fairfax County Board Auditor sends outrageous audit request to Friends of the Library groups!


Below is the full text of the letter, background materials, and audit questionnaire sent by Fairfax County Board Auditor Jim Shelton to the county's 21 Friends of the Library groups calling for a response by February 16.  Described as a "control self-assessment tool" that "is designed to be a collaborative approach to gathering the needed information," the questionnaire is little more than a fishing expedition that, if completed, could lead to legal action against the Friends groups, not to mention shutting them down.

It behooves the Friends groups to reject this audit request as intrusive, unwarranted. and possibly illegal demand.  The groups are private, volunteer 501(c)3 corporations with no legal obligation to provide more than public information to the county.  Moreover, providing anything more than publicly required legal documents, such as the 990 tax returns, puts each group and their members in legal jeopardy.

The action by the Board of Supervisors to require this audit is punitive.  We believe it is intended to shut down the Friends groups who have been critical of the FCPL administration.

The key reason for the punitive audit is a "manifesto" prepared by some Friends members and library staff that was sent to the Library Board in Summer 2013 by Library Director Sam Clay.  Among the points it makes are the need to:
  • Fund a high quality library system.
  • Modernize the Library Trustee Board.
  • Maintain highest standards of library services.
  • Make the Library Foundation independent.
  • Modernize the Library publicity department.
  • Restore Friends confidence.
 It established these imperatives for 2013 (none of which have been accomplished):
  • Fire the Director.
  • Make the Board of Trustees do their job.
  • Appoint an Interim Director.
  • Form a Branch Manager Committee of the Whole (during the interim period).
Is there any reason to doubt that this punitive audit is the way Library Director Sam Clay and the Board of Supervisors have reacted to the demands of knowledgeable volunteers who actually bring tremendous value to our libraries for much needed change in the county library system? 

10 comments:

  1. "providing anything more than publicly required legal documents, such as the 990 tax returns, puts each group and their members in legal jeopardy." Legal jeopardy? Please explain what these"Freinds" groups are doing that would put them in legal jeopardy. Sounds to me that Chairman Bulova is doing the right thing here.

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    1. To answer your question, first we need to ask two questions:
      1. Does the county have the legal authority to insist on this audit?
      2. Do the Friends groups have the legal obligation to respond?

      More specifically, the Friends groups are volunteer organizations and probably few have professional accountants in their service to keep the books. We know some use EXCEL spreadsheets and others use Quicken to keep track of finances and other transactions. Still, there is a real chance that some groups have mis-entered (or not entered) information that could put them or some of their officers in legal jeopardy.

      If the county's actions were intended to be benign and maybe event constructive, they would have asked the Friends groups to review their records and update them if need be. They would not have asked for details to be released to them.

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    2. (For reasons we do not understand, the following Anonymous comment disappeared when we tried to publish it. We have copied it as submitted and placed it here so everyone may see it.)

      Of course, you are right. I beg your pardon, I thought these questions would have been answered prior to going public I'm sure Sharon Bulova has an answer to both. Make no mistake, I'm not exactly a fan of hers, but, in my dealings with her, she tends to cross her t's and dot her i's. I'd be willing to bet she consulted the county attorneys.

      That said, I think legally she does have a right to conduct an audit. These groups operate on county facilities, and deal with county excess property. I'm not sure, maybe you can clear this up, how much staff interaction there is with the Friends groups. If county employees are involved, that puts a whole new spin on things.

      Do they have to answer to this? That's a sticky situation. The groups may certainly deny the Board of Supervisors the information they, through the auditor,are requesting, but to what end? The Board, through the Trustees which they appointed, may elect to void the Memorandum of Understanding to any group that doesn't comply.

      Simple mistakes aren't going to cause an auditor any alarm. They are, in fact, volunteers The only legal trouble the would get into was if any member or employee benefited from the operation. for example, if they paid any member for their time, if an employee or member benefited from their donations or sales, gave campaign contributions, or reimbursed people for items against 501(3)c codes.

      I really do think that this is just, as Bulova said, good fiduciary responsibility... I hate agreeing with her!!!

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    3. Responding to Anon. @ 9:35AM:

      Apparently Chairman Bulova doesn't always "cross her t's and dot her i's." In this case she has given three serial reasons why the Board needed to conduct the audit, and subsequently acknowledged that the first two were not true (although she didn't apologize for that error).

      The third reason--to complete the internal Gift Fund audit--is bogus. Rather than a full audit of the Friends as now being pursued, the Board Auditor could complete his internal audit of the Gift Fund and then ask the Friends if their records match the internal ones. No audit required.

      Please be aware that the auditor performing this is the Board Auditor who reports directly to the Board of Supervisors, not the statutory County Auditor who derives its authority from the Commonwealth. The Board Auditor is not interested in a balanced audit--overlooking "simple mistakes"--he is almost certainly looking for any error (simple, complex, fraud, accident...) that may serve as a political justification for the Board to either seize the Friends' assets, take more of their revenue flows, or even shut down the Friends groups.

      Regarding the MOU, the Library Board of Trustees is in the process of developing a new MOU that we expect will attempt to impose new requirements on the volunteer Friends groups. It's not clear that the Friends groups will entertain the new MOU. Moreover, if the LBOT voids its existing one (for whatever reason), it will in fact be shooting the library system in the foot (or maybe even the head) because the county is in no condition to provide the services the Friends do. That would violate the state-mandated charter of the LBOT to protect and advance the public library.

      But, hey, Clay and the Board would be rid of a group critical of their outrageous policies and practices.

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  2. Interesting article. I am not sure at all it's retaliation for any acts of the Friends or the Federation. I think the county has another agenda here. Let's see how it plays out. And to respond to Anon 10;03, Chairman Bulova has no legal authority here. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement that the Friends have is with the Library Board which is an independent governing body under the Virgina code. The Board Matter was approved by the Board of Supervisors based on a statement by Bulova that the Fairfax Federation had requested an audit of the Friends of the Library and the Library Foundation. The Federation never requested any such audits. We are waiting for Chairman Bulova to provide a statement to the Board of Supervisors that corrects her earlier inaccurate statement that the Federation did.

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  3. Of course, you are right. I beg your pardon, I thought these questions would have been answered prior to going public I'm sure Sharon Bulova has an answer to both. Make no mistake, I'm not exactly a fan of hers, but, in my dealings with her, she tends to cross her t's and dot her i's. I'd be willing to bet she consulted the county attorneys.

    That said, I think legally she does have a right to conduct an audit. These groups operate on county facilities, and deal with county excess property. I'm not sure, maybe you can clear this up, how much staff interaction there is with the Friends groups. If county employees are involved, that puts a whole new spin on things.

    Do they have to answer to this? That's a sticky situation. The groups may certainly deny the Board of Supervisors the information they, through the auditor,are requesting, but to what end? The Board, through the Trustees which they appointed, may elect to void the Memorandum of Understanding to any group that doesn't comply.

    Simple mistakes aren't going to cause an auditor any alarm. They are, in fact, volunteers The only legal trouble the would get into was if any member or employee benefited from the operation. for example, if they paid any member for their time, if an employee or member benefited from their donations or sales, gave campaign contributions, or reimbursed people for items against 501(3)c codes.

    I really do think that this is just, as Bulova said, good fiduciary responsibility... I hate agreeing with her!!!

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  4. Why is Sharon Bulova attacking groups of volunteers who give their time and effort raising funds to support library programs for kids and people of all ages, countless magazine and newspaper subscriptions, augmenting the library's e-book and print book budgets, gardening supplies to support gardens and landscaping at library branches , training and education opportunities for library staff and much more ? Are there no real problems in our County that Bulova could focus on instead of this vindictive witch hunt against the library Friends ??

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  5. Anon 7:23:

    Once retired library books are given to the Friends they are no longer considered county property. They are not "surplus county property." They are the Friends' private property. The County Attorney has ruled on this. They become the private property of the Friends which they can sell, donate or discard. The county has no further financial interest in that property. I do not believe the Board of Supervisors can void the MOU. The MOU is between each Friends' group and the Library Board. The Library Board is a governing authority independent of the BOS under Virginia code. The BOS voted for an audit based on an inaccurate statement by Chairman Bulova. The Fairfax Federation never asked for audits of the Friends or the Library Foundation. When will this be addressed by the BOS?

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  6. Please cite this code. I'm not disagreeing with you, but without proper documentation, I cant agree with you. There is no way that the county would give up authority on any department. my previous post wasn't published. Please cite the code. Thank you!

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  7. http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+TOC4201000

    http://www.lva.virginia.gov/lib-edu/ldnd/trustee/2005Handbook/2005Handbook.pdf

    The county has to abide by state and federal laws. I know they like to pretend otherwise. Public libraries in Virginia have Library Boards of Trustees which govern them. Doesn't matter whether you agree or not. The LBOT hires and fires the director, sets policy, and sets the budget.

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