By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor James Bonfiglio says he’s spent hours in recent weeks trying to figure out what went wrong with the town’s financial record-keeping last year.
He’s not happy about that. And he’s not happy that Town Manager Jamie Titcomb failed to catch the problems months ago — and then didn’t tell the commission immediately when he found out about the errors.
“When were you planning on telling us that our books didn’t balance?” Bonfiglio asked Titcomb during the June 5 town meeting. “It’s the manager’s job to catch this. Your hair should have been on fire.”
Titcomb accepted responsibility and told the commission he’s been taking a forensic approach to finding the source of the technical problems.
Bonfiglio said he has talked on the phone for hours with the town’s auditor and a data consultant the town had to hire to undo the damage caused by an apparent software glitch.
About a year ago, Bonfiglio said, something went wrong with transmission of the town’s monthly financial statements. Incoming revenues were not recorded in the data collection.
This went on for nearly a year, the vice mayor said, until the town’s auditor, Ron Bennett of Nolan, Holt & Miner, caught the problem in February during his annual review of the town’s books.
Bennett advised Titcomb to hire the data retrieval consultant to find the glitch and reconstruct the missing data.
The consultant charged the town roughly $7,000 to straighten out the mess — a bill Bonfiglio and Commissioner Steve Coz think the town would have avoided had Titcomb been more vigilant.
“Nobody was balancing the books,” Bonfiglio said. “Nobody was reconciling the monthly statements to the general ledger.”
Commissioners said they were also annoyed the manager kept them in the dark about the consultant’s hiring until it came up as a surprise during a budget workshop in May.
Titcomb has said he thinks the data loss was caused either by a lightning strike in March 2016 or by an appending glitch that occurred when two employees tried to work in the system at the same time.
He also said reassignment of some staff duties and outdated accounting software have contributed to problems.
The vice mayor said only Titcomb and Town Clerk Tracey Stevens are authorized to reconcile the monthly statements, so the blame shouldn’t go to office staff members.
“It really doesn’t have to do with software or changing assignments,” Bonfiglio said. “This should have come to somebody’s attention in March .”
The commissioners and Titcomb do agree, however, that the town has received all the money it was supposed to receive, and the problem does not go beyond record-keeping.
“To me, it is my responsibility,” Titcomb told the commission. “You hired me to fix and evolve and modernize legacy systems in this town. I have taken the approach of trying to forensically understand why certain things aren’t working properly and gone about trying to break them to fix them.”
Mayor Geoff Pugh told Titcomb: “You are the finance manager and the budgetary manager. You should have seen those zeros and figured it out.”
Titcomb said the problem is obvious in hindsight but was not as apparent last year.
He told commissioners corrections made to the system will prevent problems going forward.
The manager said he expects Bennett to give the town a clean bill of health when he makes his audit report this summer.
Said Bonfiglio, “Frankly, I’m disappointed.”
In other business, commissioners directed Police Chief Hal Hutchins to put up a “No Unloading or Loading” sign at the east end of Beachway Drive and to work with Titcomb to develop a plan for changing the traffic pattern on the street.
The commission wants to consider the plan at the July 10 meeting.
By Dan Moffett