November 2, 2009

Auditors, Montgomery register of wills at odds over fitness program

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

The Montgomery County Register of Wills has butted heads with legislative auditors, as the two state agencies disputed the propriety of a personal fitness program for the register’s employees.

The Office of Legislative Audits released a report last week that was critical of some of the register’s financial practices, notably its retention of a trainer for employees.  The report says the office of Register of Wills Joseph Griffin spent about $35,500 on the training services, and may not have followed the correct procedures for procuring them.

“We question the use of public funds for this purpose since such services are not routinely budgeted nor procured by State government agencies,” the report reads. “Furthermore, this procurement was not competitively bid, a contract was not executed, and approval was not obtained from the Comptroller of Maryland, as required.”

Griffin took issue with the audit, claiming that some of its figures were off, and that the fitness services were provided over three years so the cost looks inflated.

The Register of Wills oversees the administration of estates for Montgomery County and collects the inheritance taxes there. According to Griffin’s response to the report, his office collected about $52 million between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2009.

Griffin believes that he did not have to gain approval for the spending because he saw it as a monthly expense. He wrote that the office bid the contract competitively by phone and retained its records, and that the state encourages fitness programs for its employees.

Griffin argued that the state has run a program known as Club Maryland through the Department of Budget and Management, which helps agencies pay for personal fitness and other health initiatives in the work place, but auditors responded that the program has not been funded since 2005.

“The information for Club Maryland was provided by the Department of Budget and Management for the State of Maryland and was located in their brochure for State employee benefits,” Griffin wrote. “After first contacting the Department of Budget and Management to inquire about starting an exercise program for employees and being assured that I could, an agreement was entered into.”