September 8, 2013

Murray mix-up result offers hope for the future

— Murray County government got some good news last week in the form of a check for more than $240,000 from Chief Magistrate Gale Buckner.

But there’s a dark side to this unexpected gift — what was nearly a quarter of a million dollars that was unaccounted for doing in the court’s coffers anyway?

Apparently that wad of dough was just lying there not doing much of anything as a result of undistributed fees that belonged to the county government.

An independent auditor from Calhoun found most of the money was from various fees that the court collects that should have been dispersed into the county’s general fund but for some reason was kept.

Why the money was allowed to accumulate in a bank account between 2008 and 2012 hasn’t been fully explained. Some of the blame has been attributed to “unintentional human errors” as employees miscalculated what was owed the county from certain fees.

What is clear, however, is that the court’s operations on the fiscal side have been lacking in management and oversight. Did that lazy style of mismanagement spill over into the court’s judicial duties?

Buckner was appointed to the office last fall after former chief magistrate Bryant Cochran resigned under scrutiny over several alleged ethics issues unrelated to these financial issues. Buckner discovered the undistributed money soon after.

Then, three Magistrate Court workers quit, claiming they were being “bullied” by Buckner, and they have been replaced. There’s no evidence at this time that anyone intentionally mishandled the money, Buckner said.

The good side of this is that the money has been turned over to the proper account, and Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman said it has been added to the general fund and will likely keep the county from having to borrow money as officials wait for property tax revenues to roll in.

That’s only part of the good news out of all this, however. The better news is that the Magistrate Court is back on a sound financial track with a sound, accountable leader.