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Supervisor of Elections office audit uncovers irregularities

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

During a recent audit of the local Supervisor of Elections office, performed by Lanigan and Associates, P.C. Certified Public Accountants, a matter related to the compensation of Madison County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Hardee came to the attention of the auditors.

Tommy Hardee

According to a letter addressed to Tommy Hardee, from Lanigan and Associates, dated Monday, Dec. 18, “The Supervisor of Elections annual salary is established pursuant [to] Chapter 145, Florida Statutes which states, 'Each Supervisor of Elections shall receive as salary the amount indicated, based on the population of his or her county.' For fiscal year 2016-17 this amount is $99,149 (base pay of $97,149 plus $2,000 for special qualification). Based on our audit procedures, we determined that your [Hardee's] total gross pay for the fiscal year was $122,473 which exceeds the statutorily established salary by $23,324. This difference is comprised of five unauthorized disbursements, less the statutory adjustment of $1,463.25.”

This “statutory adjustment” is for a pay raise that was authorized by the Florida Legislature for all Constitutional Officers. Some Constitutional Officers chose to take the pay raise, others chose not to. In their letter to Hardee, Lanigan and Associates listed five checks dated in July and August, 2017.

According to Hardee, he had been told by the auditor last year, that since it was not specified how often he should be paid, it was acceptable for him to receive pay advances, as long as it remained within his budget. Hardee was clear to point out that payroll taxes were taken out from these five disbursements. “If I had planned to steal money, would I have had payroll taxes taken out?” asked Hardee. After taxes, etc. were taken out of the disbursements in question, the net pay totaled $17,235.20. Hardee stated that he had repaid this total amount back to the Supervisor of Elections office. Hardee also stated that Lanigan and Associates saw this as an error and did not insinuate any intentional wrongdoing.

On the same day that he received notification from Lanigan and Associates, Hardee sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, explaining what had transpired. In his letter, dated Monday, Dec. 18, Hardee stated, “During the most recent audit of my office there was an error in the accounting and I [Hardee] actually owed the office money, which I promptly paid upon discovery. After receiving some poor advice, I was under the impression that as a Constitutional Officer, I had control of my budget as my salary is set annually and not monthly. Further, it was my understanding that as long as my budget balanced at the end of the calendar year I had latitude to make salary advances.” Hardee went on to inform Gov. Scott that in order to “make sure that mistakes on this level never re-occur, I am again outsourcing the entire accounting functions to an independent accounting firm as recommended by the auditors.”

During the regular meeting of the Madison County Board of County Commissioners, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, a local citizen questioned the Commissioners about the situation. This citizen asked Attorney Tommy Reeves and Clerk of the Court and County Comptroller Billy Washington if they were the individuals who had given Hardee the errant advice. Both Reeves and Washington said they had not given advice to Hardee. This same citizen asked if the Commissioners would be writing a letter to the Governor concerning this matter. Speaking on behalf of the Board, Reeves said that as a Constitutional Officer, the Supervisor of Elections does not fall under the authority of the Commissioners. That authority lies with the Governor. The matter has been brought to the Governor's attention, by Hardee himself, and it is now up to Gov. Scott’s office as to what, if any, further action is necessary.

“I know there are people who will want to make this bigger than what it is,” said Hardee. He added that since his appointment and subsequent re-election, the local office is only the second Supervisor of Elections office in the nation to receive the ISO 9001:2015 Audit rating. Hardee's office has also implemented a policy requiring at least two people at any given time [be allowed to] handle, inspect or be in the presence of a ballot, insuring that no one person can ever be alone with a ballot. Hardee has also been elected to the Board of Directors for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. “I will continue in these endeavors and working with the Secretary of State and the Division of Elections and the people of Madison County,” said Hardee.

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