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Rockwood scores a perfect audit

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By Cindy Simpson

What a difference a year makes.

Rockwood’s financial audit, once a source of controversy among city leaders, didn’t just make a turnaround.

The auditors announced that they found nothing to report on the internal control and compliance portion of the audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

“I can tell you there are no findings,” auditor Richard Hill said Monday. “There were no material weaknesses, no material instances of noncompliance.

“All findings reported for the prior year were corrected during the year ending June 30, 2013.”

City recorder Becky Ruppe celebrated the good news.

“No-findings audits don’t happen very often, and it may never happen again,” she said, “but by George, it happened this time.”

A no-findings audit can be considered quite an accomplishment for the city. Previous audits had numerous items, many of which had been reported in past years and went unrectified.

“I think our office staff ought to be commended for that,” said Councilman Mike Freeman of the no-repeat findings.

Mayor James Watts gave a lot of the credit to Ruppe and finance officer Belinda Puckett.

The audited year is the first full year the team helmed city finances.

“We’ve come a long way in the last few years. I certainly want to thank Becky and Belinda for taking the system and making it work,” Watts said.

“Doing it the right way is what gets you a no-finding audit.”

Over the years the city has faced scrutiny for a number of issues, most notably the accusation that former Public Works Director Tom Pierce used thousands of dollars of city funds to purchase weapons, camera equipment and clothes.

An auditor noted some suspicious activity and the state Comptroller of the Treasury came in, resulting in charges against Pierce, who was indicted in March 2013 for two counts of unauthorized use of a credit card and official misconduct.

That resulted in changes to the city’s purchasing policy and limitations on access to city credit cards.

Previous findings in prior audits included failure to pay payroll taxes on time and to send funds to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System

Those findings were repeatedly noted by Councilwoman Peggy Evans over the years, who took then-city recorder Jim Hines and finance officer Joby Winters to task for them.

Prior audits also were extremely late, waiting on management response to the questions posed by auditors.

Ruppe credited the hard work of employees, including department heads.

“This city is blessed to have Belinda Puckett as its certified municipal finance officer,” Ruppe said. “She is tenacious and goes above and beyond to make sure Rockwood’s finances are handled in the manner they should be.”

She added, “We work well together with our department heads. We set a goal early on that we would not have any repeat audit findings if at all possible. We are thankful for this good report on behalf of Rockwood, Mayor Watts, the employees and most certainly the citizens who deserve for us to be good caretakers of city funds.”

Former council member Dudley Evans said it was not clear the city was in dire financial situations when he sat on council.

“We were unaware apparently of some of the issues going on,” he noted.

He said the city received good audits and there was no indication the city was bankrupt.

“I don’t think anybody has ever said any administration has not done their duty and fulfilled their responsibility the best they could,” Watts said.

He said while he himself was on council he made decisions based on what he thought were accurate financial records.

“I made a lot of decisions based on what I believed were accurate information,” Watts said.

He also said the city had a tough time recuperating from the 2000 incident in which Howard Butler, then city recorder, was accused of swindling more than $400,000 in city funds.

Watts said the city only recovered a small portion of that in a 2008 settlement.

“You have a problem that moves down the line. It finally caught the city of Rockwood,” Watts said.