Audit of CENTRA brings up questions regarding previous leadership

A 53-page audit presented by the State Auditor’s office questioned the presence of proper controls and ethics of the Central West Virginia Transit Authority through Fiscal Year 2013-2014.
On Monday night, the members of the Board of Directors –none of whom were appointed during the time of the audit’s focus– went through the 13 findings in the report for citizens in attendance.
“We felt an obligation to show what background information created those type of points to the best of our knowledge and that’s what we discussed tonight,” Jim Smith, CENTRA Board President said. “The auditors were aware of the specifics, but some of them weren’t clearly stated in the report.”
In a finding related to “Use of Public Resources” the report reads that “Public resources were potentially utilized for the private gain of a public official,” utilizing the Special Event Trolley to transport guests during a “personal special event without payment for the service.”
On Monday night, the CENTRA board explained that former member, and Harrison County Commissioner, Bernie Fazzini requested the use of the trolley to transport the guest from the site of his daughter’s wedding to the Village Square Conference Center in Clarksburg. The date had been previously booked by another wedding party and the policy was to not double book the vehicle.
A CENTRA employee was told to go ahead and schedule the trolley to make the 6 mile trip Fazzini requested after making the 9 mile trip for the other party.
According to the audit, neither party paid.
In another finding related to “Alteration of Minutes and Missing Procedures” the auditors found “the minutes did not conation all required information such as new employees, resignations, and approval of expenditures” and “had possibly been altered upon an order of the general manager.”
One such instance is believed to be when the previous board voted to raise former GM John Aman’s salary to $70,000. The action was originally put in the minutes but later was ordered to be removed, a violation of West Virginia Code 8-27-7.
(Read the full audit here)
Most of the information compiled by the auditors was done so through investigations of the entity’s records from that year. However, information on certain incidents –included the two formerly mentioned– was provided by employees who came forward to speak.
“Some of the key employees had sessions with the auditors,” Smith said. “That was independent of me. I didn’t go in the room, sit in and listen on what they were discussing. I felt they should have the freedom to discuss it on their own.”
For the most part, the current board understands the issues in the findings and has implemented the recommended policy changes.
In other areas, such as with the discrepancies in “miles driven in comparison to the to the levels of fuel remaining” and the occasional “lack of supporting information to demonstrate funds were expended for a public purpose,” the board didn’t fully understand what the auditors had found and what evidence they had to prove such findings.
For this reason, a meeting has been tentatively set for the board, along with current GM Vanessa Perkins –who was a financial officer under the previous leadership– to meet with an auditor who has knowledge of the report.
“The board may have more types of question in detail, especially some of the ones on internal control, lack of documentation,” Smith said. “We don’t have first-hand knowledge of all of that. That is what [the auditors] had compiled as a result of the audit process.”
CENTRA became the subject of public scrutiny in October after the previous board voted unanimously to hold the general manager’s position for Aman while he serves a 21-month sentence for bank fraud related to duties outside the scope of the bus service.
The board then voted 2-1, with Fazzini the dissenter, to appoint Sam “Zeke” Lopez to the interim position at a salary of $35,000 a year.
After the second vote, Mario Blount, the board president and former mayor of Bridgeport, announced his resignation in anticipation of a three year prison sentence for committing federal drug crimes in the scope of his work as a pharmacist.
Displeased with the outcome of the meeting, Fazzini announced his resignation and a new board had to be appointed.
Five new members were selected by the Harrison County Commission, the City of Clarksburg and the City of Bridgeport in hopes of a fresh start.
Their first action was to let go of Lopez and eliminating the interim general manager position, followed by requesting the audit.
With a vote on the levy that will determine if CENTRA can remain in service on the horizon, new board president Smith believes one of the highest priorities is to rebuild the public’s trust, which made Monday’s attempt at transparency important.
“CENTRA is a viable entity that provides a critical service to [Harrison] county,” he said. “We don’t want the public to have such information and it not be factual to make a improper decision when it comes time to vote for the levy again.”
Members of the board feel if the levy were to fail, it would be self-defeating by getting rid of a service that is needed.
The meeting with the State Auditor’s Office is scheduled for April 23 at 4 p.m., during a special session.