Government Accounting

BY JOURNAL

A Truly Public Accountant

Between the activities of the Independence Standards Board and American Express buyouts, the CPA may well ask, what is independence? For Martha O. Haynie, CPA, its being directly answerable to the public. In office since 1989, she is the only elected county comptroller in Florida, with more power than most county comptrollers: She has the authority to audit all the countys departments, including those of the other county officers, such as the county property appraisers and the tax collector. This power allows the comptrollers office to protect the public in new ways.

Thorny audits
Haynies early audits covered countywide procurement practices. We found some pretty sloppy and expensive practices, such as contracts signed on an emergency basis that were extended for years. The county ended up rewriting purchasing regulations. Another audit, of the countys land acquisition practices, found the county was overpaying for some land. In fact, according to the audit, the county commissioners had delegated too much of their authority.

Haynie often walks a fine line between politics and standards. Weve had to be very careful. Officials sometimes want to use my audits to make a political point, which is inappropriate. Consistency is also an issue: Haynie has to be careful not to appear to be going after anyone. She and her staff do risk analyses to decide which agencies to audit. They cant shy away from auditing the sheriffs office just because the sheriff is popular. To maintain the appearance as well as the fact of independence, Haynie generally allows the audit director under her to select which entities to audit.

Tax collections and mistaken identity
The comptroller is also responsible for collection of the tourist development taxessentially a bed tax imposed on tourists and collected by hotelsthat raises nearly $100 million a year. Haynie had to get involved when some hotels claimed rollaway beds were not subject to the taxagain, a political issue. Tourism is our number one industry and you dont necessarily want to make these people mad. But a rollaway bed is a bed.

Haynie also oversees the countys investments. When Orange County, California, found itself teetering on bankruptcy because of poor investment decisions, she spent a lot of time saying, No, thats not us. Nevertheless, she ended up chairing a statewide task force on investment policies. As a result, the state legislature passed a law, modeled on Orange County, Florida, regulations, requiring written investment policies and public annual reports.

Never underestimate the value
The CPAs audit and financial management skillsas well as reputationhave helped Haynie. When I first ran for comptroller, people connected with the fact that I was a CPA, said Haynie. All her senior finance staff and senior auditors are CPAs as well. Its raised the publics confidence. People see the designation and seem confident that Im qualified and doing the job right.



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