After a review by Charleston County’s internal auditor, Republican Register Mesne Conveyance Charlie Lybrand says a county auditor will now conduct an annual audit of a bank account containing overage payments made to his office. The account had never been audited until a Democratic County Council member demanded an audit in the run-up to this November’s election.
Lybrand, who has held the elected office of RMC for 20 years, is up for re-election in November and faces a challenge by Democratic candidate Patrick Bell. Recently, Democratic County Council member Colleen Condon called into question Lybrand’s handling of an overage account, which holds excess payments for RMC office fees that total less than $5 apiece. Brady Quirk-Garvan, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party, accused Lybrand of keeping the account a secret and using it as a “slush fund.” (Read more about the accusations here.)
The account, which was created in 1978 by a previous RMC, had never been audited by the county until two weeks ago. But in his report to County Council’s Audit Committee, county internal auditor Bob Stewart did not reveal any particularly shady details about the account. According to Stewart, the account received about $4,000 worth of deposits over the course of 12 months. When people pay their fees at the RMC office, which holds the records of land and real estate transactions throughout the county, they receive a receipt that says, “The RMC Office retains any recording fee overages of $5 or less.” The receipt also notes that customers can request a refund of the overage in writing.
Stewart reported that the account had been used to provide refunds, to temporarily spot customers whose payment came up a few dollars short, and to buy small gifts including flowers for county employees after weddings or funerals.
Councilwoman Condon spent most of last Thursday’s Audit Committee meeting asking Stewart a battery of questions about the account.
“Your emails said you didn’t know about the accounts,” Condon said. “That’s what causes my concern, when a person who’s supposed to be accounting money doesn’t know about an account.”
“[Lybrand] didn’t say we couldn’t audit,” Stewart said. “We didn’t think it was county money.”
After Condon had spent about 20 minutes asking Stewart questions, County Council member Elliott Summey said it seemed like Condon was “persecuting” his fellow Republican Lybrand.
“It is an election year, and hell, I’ve done the same thing,” Summey said, referring to the fall of 2011, when Summey publicly called out County Auditor Peggy Moseley over the delayed mailing of tax bills. “There are mountains and there are molehills, and it feels like we’re making one out of the other.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Lybrand rose to make a statement. He handed the council members copies of a spreadsheet detailing every deposit that had been made to the overage account in Fiscal Year 2014. When Condon suggested a different way of handling the account, which is divided between a cash-on-hand account in the office and a checking account at Bank of America, Lybrand responded curtly.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but let me worry about that,” Lybrand said. “I’m an elected official. This is our account, and we’ll handle it.”
In a memo addressed to Councilman Herb Sass, chairman of the Audit Committee, Lybrand laid out the following plan for the overage account:
Here is what I intend to do:
• Close the Bank of America Checking Account.
• Open a new Charleston County Overage Account with First Citizens Bank. This is where the RMC Account is located.
• Agree on a starting balance with the County Auditor and write a check to Charleston County for all funds above that amount.
• Because I believe the Overage Account is so important to Real Estate Attorneys and other Professionals using our services, I will continue the Overage Account like it is now, with one exception. When checks are written at the beginning of each month, to the State and to the County, we will also write a check to the County Treasurer from the RMC Overage Account drawing it down to the agreed starting balance.
• The new Overage Account will be Audited annually (like the RMC Account) by Internal and External Auditors.
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