Few State Agencies Have Power To Audit, Cac Finds

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Governor Jan Brewer’s office says it has no authority to ask for additional audits of Eastern Arizona College or Gila Community College, according to a recent response to a Citizens Awareness Committee request.

Meanwhile, the state auditor general says its legal authority is limited to conducting annual audits and investigating potential crime the audit uncovers.

And, the state attorney general’s office has not yet responded to the April letter sent by the CAC. The letter asked the three state agencies for in-depth look at the financial dealings of GCC and EAC.

EAC has yet to account to Gila County taxpayers how it spends $3.4 million in tax money, $1.6 million in student tuition, and $700,000 in state aid. Some money returns to Gila County in the form of salaries and other, similar expenses.

However, EAC spends nearly all of GCC’s income without saying how much actually comes back to Gila County.

Throughout the past year, the college has given board members 10 different year-end budget estimates ranging from $2 million short to $2 million in excess.

Then, in late February, the auditor general released a report revealing that EAC President Mark Bryce improperly borrowed more than $7,000 in taxpayer funds and spent another $16,000 in violation of district policy.

“We don’t know if any of that is our money,” said board member Tom Loeffler at a recent CAC meeting.

State Financial Audit Director Jay Zsorey said the special report arose from “unusual” activity the agency noted in its regular annual audit. Although the report found Bryce violated the Arizona Constitution, Zsorey said that doesn’t qualify as a crime. A crime must involve personal gain, he said.

The report spurred CAC to send a second letter to the auditor general. The first letter, written last October, asked the auditor to examine EAC’s management of GCC’s money. The second, sent in April, asked for an operations audit of both schools for the past three years.

“We believe these uncovered instances of abuse or improper reporting of public taxpayer monies could only be the tip of the iceberg,” CAC’s second letter read.

Each time, the auditor general told CAC it lacked the statutory authority to consider its request.

“Everything we do is defined in statute,” said Zsorey in a telephone interview. The agency conducts annual audits and investigates unusual activity it finds during the examination.

Maureen Cotner, who works in the governor’s office of constituent services, also wrote a response.

“I can certainly understand why you’re concerned and interested in pursuing a more complete audit of Eastern Arizona College,” she wrote.

“Regrettably, the governor does not have jurisdiction to provide support or request additional audits.”

Cotner told the CAC it should ask the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, an arm of the Arizona Legislature, for a special audit, or the county attorney’s office.

“This is more of the same, really,” said CAC CAC co-chair Jim Hippel of the auditor general’s second response. However, he said it didn’t surprise him.

“It was an effort to try to get some interest,” Hippel said, adding that the most important current effort involves the newly formed state task force headed by Sen. Sylvia Allen.

Advocates say their efforts are best aimed at freeing GCC instead of plowing through the never-ending and unanswered questions about the school’s relationship with EAC.

“That’s the key,” Hippel said about possible legislation freeing GCC. “Until that happens, we’re still under the guise of the EAC contract, which we all know is bizarre.”

Meanwhile, the auditor general hasn’t completed an audit for GCC since 2005, although a look at 2006 records is under way.

Zsorey previously attributed the delay to GCC’s slowness in sending the agency financial data.

On Thursday, he said his office is waiting for information from GCC and didn’t have a timeline for completion.

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