First there was public uproar about how members of Montgomery County’s Board of Education used their district-issued credit cards. Now comes fallout regarding the $140,000 in legal bills that piled up as the records for those credit cards went under review and investigation.
Board President Phil Kauffman (At Large) defended the legal costs in a commentary recently published by The Washington Post, arguing that hiring outside lawyers to examine members’ spending decisions was “the right thing to do” as the school board sought to examine its own actions and come up with new procedures.
“Objectivity was an important part of this process,” he wrote, saying that the board hired the Venable law firm for its experience handling public-integrity issues. The board asked Venable to review board expense records, provide a written report and recommend actions.
“This is standard operating procedure when an organization is reviewing its own practices, whether it’s a business, a sports league or a government agency,” Kauffman wrote.
But several Montgomery County Council members and a Montgomery watchdog group have challenged the need to involve outside lawyers and assailed the cost of the help.
“I just don’t think there is any way you can tie a ribbon on the fact that our school board spent $140,000 getting advice on how to stop wasting money and make it look good,” County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said.
Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said he found the hiring of the law firm wasteful and unnecessary. “The solution was obvious: to get rid of the credit cards and adopt policies that were reasonable,” he said.
This is a total scam by the the school board, which could have hired an independent accounting firm – even a Big 4 – trained in forensic auditing for no more than a third of that cost. And I was a partner in one in for 30 years, so I know how much it costs to audit a dozen credit cards and review the controls and policies over their use.
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