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Financial Irregularities in Arlington Senior Travel Program

In an exclusive story, ARLnow.com reports in its lede that:

"One county employee was fired and three others were disciplined after financial irregularities were discovered at Arlington’s Senior Adult Travel Program, but no criminal charges were brought after a months-long investigation that one source says was “botched.”

"The investigation started in fall 2011, after four improperly-opened bank accounts were discovered, but only came to light this month after one of disciplined employees appealed her punishment at a public Civil Service Commission hearing, which was attended by ARLnow.com.

"The four accounts were opened, unbeknownst to county officials, at an Arlington PNC Bank branch in 2010. They were opened by an Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) employee who coordinated the Senior Adult Travel program, we’re told by a source with knowledge of the investigation.

"The county-run senior travel program organizes dozens of trips per year for Arlington residents over the age of 55. The activities range from day trips to cultural performance, casinos and historic sites — on a new county-owned bus — to overnight trips to Europe and elsewhere. The program has two employees, an annual budget of $134,046 and recorded 2,738 trip reservations in Fiscal Year 2012, according to DPR Director Jane Rudolph."

It seems Arlington County taxpayers should be asking some very pertinent questions about just what the county government is doing. After all, providing seniors the opportunity to take overnight trips, whether to Europe or elsewhere, seems to be far beyond providing essential core services.

The story contains more detail than can be summarized in the above lede. However, ARLnow.com notes an unidentified employee "was able to conduct transactions — like paying for meals and other expenses on the trips — without the restrictions and hassle of the county’s internal financial controls."

Arlington County has issued a press release, which has been incorporated into the ARLnow exclusive story. The following two paragraphs seem to be the most important, however:

"The County coordinated an investigation into the program’s management and financial practices with the Arlington County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney. The investigation included a review by external auditors. It was determined that no program participant lost any money. In every instance, participants received the services that they paid for.

"In May 2012, ACPD and the Commonwealth’s Attorney determined that there was no criminal activity or intent in the operating of the accounts or the program. The County then conducted an administrative investigation and held staff accountable for failing to follow County practices; this included a number of personnel actions that were only recently completed."

Earlier this month, ARLnow published a story of how Arlington County lacked "robust internal auditing," writing:

"A local civic activist is calling for Arlington to improve its internal financial auditing, lest more spending snafus fall through the cracks.

"Suzanne Smith Sundberg, a member of the Arlington County Civic Federation Revenues and Expenditures Committee, has written an eight page report detailing what she characterizes as a lack of audit oversight over the county’s finances.

"The county eliminated two internal auditing positions during budget cuts in 2010, Sundberg writes, a move that raised red flags with her committee at the time. Recent news items have supported their concern and point to need to create a permanent internal auditing office, she says."

Looks like we can now add the senior travel program to the list of "financial irregularities," which already includes the Super Stop bus stops, the Artisphere, and the Columbia Pike streetcar initiative. Kudos to ARLnow.com for attending the Civil Service Commission meeting. After attending several of them years ago, that's going above and beyond the call of a journalist's duties.

UPDATE (5/1/13): The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan reported yesterday that "Arlington fires one worker, disciplines others for opening bank accounts for program" while the Clarendon-Courthouse-Rosslyn Patch has this report today.

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