Who's minding the store in Trumbull County?
On July 1, Trumbull County's maintenance department bought five cases of toilet bowl cleaner and six cases of wood furniture polish with money earmarked for the county jail. But Sheriff Thomas Altiere and the jail custodian say they didn't order or get any of the merchandise. In fact, the jail has very little wood that needs to be polished. So what happened to the toilet bowl cleaner and the polish? Don't ask Tony Delmont, director of maintenance for county buildings. Unless, of course, you want a lesson on how government should not conduct business.
Delmont says he does not know what department the merchandise was ordered for or may have placed the order. "No one can prove we didn't get the merchandise," he says. But can anyone in county government prove that the five cases of toilet bowl cleaner and the six cases of wood furniture were delivered? And is there any way to show how the supplies were used?
The answer to both those questions is no. That's because the maintenance department's bookkeeping system is so inadequate that there's no way of telling whether goods that are paid for actually arrive. As a Vindicator review of the records revealed, although the department saves packing slips that are shipped with the supplies, they are never matched up with bills suppliers later send through the mail.
The review by two reporters resulted in a front page story Sunday that spotlighted the shortcomings of the system -- if it can be called that -- now in place. But it wasn't just the examples cited in the story that caused us to sit up and take notice. It was the nonchalant attitude of the man in charge that made it wonder if "minding the store" has any meaning in government.
"We don't have someone here at all times to check the boxes and make sure what we ordered is there, so sometimes the companies will just leave the box and someone unloads it later," Delmont said. "We tell people to put the packing slips in the box, but sometimes they forget."
And the reason he doesn't seem to be losing sleep at night over this? If merchandise wasn't arriving, people would notice because they would run out of supplies, he says. Now there's a new definition of "inventory control."
Is it any wonder that the department has only 19 packing slips to prove that purchases from Lid Chem, a Girard company, had reached the county, out of the 75 purchases made this year? What happened to the rest of the slips? They could have been accidentally thrown out, Delmont says.
This isn't about a "few hundred bucks," as the director of maintenance, contends. It's about failing in one's responsibility as a steward of taxpayers' dollars.
We urge the county commissioners to implement a purchasing system that would make it impossible for anyone in government to say, as Delmont did, "No one can prove that we didn't get the merchandise." The goal is to be able to prove that what the county ordered and paid for was delivered and then used properly.