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MAHONING COUNTY Petro: Nothing serious in audit



Published: Tue, April 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A final report on county credit card policies will be issued after the May 7 primary.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

BOARDMAN -- The Ohio Auditor's Office's examination of travel expenses of Mahoning County officials who use county credit cards -- most notably Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock -- did not uncover any serious wrongdoing or call for any findings for recovery.

"It's not an earth-shattering document by any means," said Auditor Jim Petro, who was in Boardman on Monday to endorse Mahoning County GOP Chairman Clarence Smith's re-election effort.

Preliminary report

The preliminary report will not be finalized and released to the public until after the May 7 primary, possibly as soon as the day after the primary, Petro said. Petro's policy is to not release audit reports in the two weeks leading up to any election so as not to potentially affect the outcome of the vote.

"There are no findings in the report," Petro said. "It kind of explores the county's policies and sets guidelines for the future. It's an instructional report. We took a closer look at internal controls and asked them to follow policies like pre-approval of travel."

Sherlock, who could not be reached Monday, came under fire last fall after questions were raised about her use of county credit cards for trips she and her boyfriend, Leo Jennings, took to Philadelphia, Marietta and Cincinnati.

There were also questions raised about a trip she had planned to take to Chicago but didn't.

Throughout the entire process, Sherlock insisted she did nothing wrong, that her political enemies were trying to discredit her and that any personal expenses charged on county credit cards were paid back.

Because of the controversy, the county commissioners adopted a policy that took effect this month to revoke all county credit cards for travel.

Employees who make work-related trips now have to charge the costs to their personal credit card and submit a bill to the county for reimbursement, which takes no more than 30 days.

County employees can still use credit cards for gas purchases, but only by departments responsible for public safety and only in emergency situations.

Petro said that policy change is a good one for the county.

"Public employees who travel should be directly responsible for paying those expenses and then be reimbursed," he said.

The audit began in November and took six months to complete.

"It took that long simply because we had to get information," Petro said. "Not that Vicki was slow in responding, but examining documents takes a long time. We just can't rely on anything in a file."

skolnick@vindy.com




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