Auditor shines light on Albemarle excesses

Published 6:27 am Tuesday, October 16, 2007

By Staff
Commissioner glad county went other way
By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
An audit released this month was critical of spending by a mental health agency that until recently served Beaufort County.
The Albemarle Mental Health Center, a local management entity, headed by a regional board of directors and area program director Charles Franklin, needs to cut back on its excessive spending, according to State Auditor Leslie Merritt’s office, which conducted the audit.
In the audit summary, Merritt writes that both the AMHC board and the director are responsible for the misappropriations found by his office.
The audit calls the area director’s $282,663 salary “excessive when compared to mental-health peers, other government officials and local management entity operation measures.”
That salary is more than twice the average salary paid to area program directors at the other 29 LMEs in the state.
The director’s “special assistant” was also found to be paid excessively with a salary of $142,848 “after viewing her clerical track of employment, lack of documented participation in formal training programs, actual duties performed and salary comparison to other administrative personnel in the mental health system.”
That salary, the audit reports is 3.7 times higher than average salaries paid to administrative-assistant personnel positions in Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties — the area AMHC covers. The audit was performed at the request of the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners.
The audit also found the annual expenses of the AMHC Board of Directors to be “excessive.”
Having read a draft copy of the audit, Franklin’s responses to the audit findings were published in the final report. In each response, AMHC states that what the state auditor calls “excessive” is simply a policy designed to retain active and well-qualified employees and board members.
Beaufort County commissioners voted to merge with East Carolina Behavioral Alliance, rather than AMHC in January. The county’s mental-health services were previously provided by Tideland Mental Health Center, which was one county shy of meeting state-mandated population requirements for mental-health agencies — a minimum of six counties or a population served of at least 200,000.
Commissioner Al Klemm, who voted in favor of merging with ECBA, said he had “credibility concerns” about Albemarle when he and fellow commissioners were called to chose whether to merge with it or with ECBA.