Missouri's auditor said Wednesday she’s "disheartened" by the results of an audit of Ferguson's municipal court, which found improperly stored records and thousands of dollars in illegal fees.
But Ferguson City Manager De’Carlon Seewood noted that the audit covered the 2015 fiscal year, before Ferguson signed a federal agreement to reform its courts, and said it was unfair for Galloway’s office to ignore all of the reforms the city has made.
This is the 27th audit that the state’s office has conducted since Michael Brown’s 2014 shooting death brought attention to the way courts used ordinance violations to fund city services. Ferguson got a “poor” rating, the lowest possible, meaning a follow-up audit will be required.
"Uncooperative court and city personnel caused multiple delays that prevented my audit staff from gaining access to the files necessary to complete this review,” Auditor Nicole Galloway said Wednesday. “In spite of these hindrances, my audit uncovered $26,000 in illegal fees charged to citizens, and almost $1,500 in missing money.”
The review found:
City employees stored court records in insecure facilities, which caused some to suffer extensive water and mold damage. Galloway said her office had to hire a mold remediation company in order to be able to conduct the audit.
The city could not account for $1,426 in fines and fees that defendants were required to pay. “Because some essential records were altered, deleted or could not be located, it cannot be determined in additional monies may be missing,” the report said.
The city didn’t have procedures in place to make sure that safeguards on its electronic records system were followed. The auditors found several instances in which court personnel had changed a fine or fee on a case without noting why.
The city didn’t adequately supervise the people who handled the money.
The city leveled a number of fines and fees not authorized by state law, including a warrant recall fee, a fee to mail a letter ordering a defendant to show up in court and a fee if someone filed a police report but then declined to prosecute the case.
The city prosecutor at the time allowed court personnel to sign her name to documents. Control over the signature stamp of the municipal judge was also lax.
Galloway also said court and city personnel were uncooperative, leading her to wonder “how the average citizens are treated when they’re trying to get information about their cases or resolutions on serious issues.”
Seewood called the audit “a blow” for “court clerks who are new, and dedicated to trying to do things differently.”
For example, he said, the person who handles the cash is no longer the same person who does monthly reports. He said court personnel can now see who has made changes to court cases, and the city has repealed the ordinances authorizing the fines and fees.
In addition, Seewood said there’s been a wholesale staffing change at the municipal court since the audit, including the judge and the prosecutor, who are specifically mentioned in the report.
Galloway said the city is to blame for the delay in getting the report out, and added that her office will be back to make sure Ferguson is making the changes it’s promised.
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